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Self-Portrait

In April, our Out of the Box quilt group decided to do a mini challenge of a self-portrait. We were inspired by a self-portrait quilt at this year’s Road to California quilt show. We wanted the challenge to be a simple and easy one, so suggested a small size of 8×10, allowing the process to not get bogged down in size, and allow the quilter to focus on the idea of the self-portrait.

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May 11, 2013: From the right, my mom Jacqueline, and friends Jayne, Elin and Heather help prepare my wedding bouquet.

As I thought about what I wanted to do, I had a decision to quilt an image of my face or be more abstract. I was drawn towards the challenge of picking a subject that embodied important elements of me. Over the course of a few days I scribbled down ideas as I thought of them: nature, the land where I grew up, my husband, my family, being outdoors, my love of botany and wildflowers, the women who came before me, and the women who are my family and friends today that support me. And in a passing moment, I glanced at a photo of my wedding bouquet, and I thought, that is it. Perfect. The bouquet was made up of flowers that my mother and friends collected from around the land I grew up on and put together. It embodied the moment when my husband and I became a family. It reminded me of the moment when all my community was together, family and friends supporting me on this life adventure. It reminds me of all the women who came before me, my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, who also held bouquets in their hand on their wedding day.

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I zoomed in to a picture of me holding my bouquet, and printed it out on a regular letter size piece of paper. Using tracing paper, I tried to capture indivudal flower petals and stems. I ignored some of the smaller more detailed flowers and stems, and tried to pick out the primary shapes. I chose to highlight the three main dogwood flowers in the middle, the yellow iris to the left, the purple penstemon in the back, and the globe lilies on the right. From the tracing paper, I transferred the shapes onto fusible webbing, and then ironed that to various colored fabric, and cut out each petal and stem shape. I moved and arranged the fabric pieces until I liked their composition.

IMG_3508Two other nature themes I am passionate about and love are water and oak trees. I sketched several different scenarios with both, and settled on a circular quilt, with a wave pattern spiraling around the outside. I freehand drew the first wave spiral, then traced a smaller wave inside that so I could have two different colors. I transferred these two circles onto fusible webbing, and cut out two blues. I then placed my fabric flowers into the middle of the waves. Since I had focused so much on the shape of individual flowers, I felt the bouquet overall looked flat. I cut a few more random stems, and a few leaves for the dogwood flowers, and added these to the mix. It was exactly what the piece needed, and I knew my composition was complete.

DSC01992Next, I quilted all the raw edge applique by stitching around the outside of each piece of fabric with a similar matching color. This took forever! Each little piece, I would wind a bobbin of matching thread, rethread the machine, stitch, change colors, repeat …

DSC01994When our Out of the Box group gathered to share our self-portraits (which were amazing by the way, with their intimacy and creativity!), I shared my frustration over the endless changes of bobbin threads. And my world was rocked when several of the group asked why I bothered to change my bobbin thread at all! Why I bother? Don’t you have to? Apparently, not! Both Marilyn and Margaret left their bobbin thread one color, while only making the color thread changes up top. Brilliant!

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Here’s Marilyn’s self-portrait, left is back and the right is the front. You can see how she changed color several times on front but kept the same light beige color for the back. Amazing! We did chat about how your machine stitch tension probably needs to be good, so you don’t see the bobbin thread color in the front, and if the contrast is too much you might need a darker neutral color in the back. Otherwise, I can’t wait to give this a try! I think it is interesting how our minds can get stuck in a “this is how you have to do it”, even though nobody probably ever said to me “you have to always match your bobbin thread” …. This is another great example of why I love the collaboration with our quilt group. Gets our minds and creativity out of the box!

DSC02005I really enjoyed this project in that it challenged me to take an idea and translate it into an image. It encouraged me to reflect on how I see myself, what is important and meaningful to me, and how I want to portray myself to the world. Nature. Family. Community. Color and fabric!

DSC01999And so on this Mother’s Day weekend, I want to thank my mom for raising me to be the woman I am today. And to all the women in my life, friends, aunts, grandmothers, great-grandmothers … I am who I am because I had you in life. Thank you.

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As I set out to start on the March swatch of the month, I was somewhat disheartened with the pattern. I had waited long enough to start my March swatch that April had already arrived. Eagerly opening the package, I saw that April was circles, March was circles, and January was circles.DSC01847While the stencils were different sizes of polka dot (March was medium), they were still the same pattern. Instantly I felt bored. But I persevered, and asked myself how can I enjoy this month? I told myself just start it and see.

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Both the top layer and bottom layer were apple color. The suggested treatment was negative reverse applique. The stitching of the polka dots was finished quickly, and then I was cutting out around the circles.

DSC01854So then I had a swatch of funny little circles popping out of the background fabric. At this point, I was thumbing through the book, looking for ideas on how to make this month’s block more interesting. And I settled on adding some star embellishment with embroidery thread.

DSC01848Random circles received a random number of little red embroidered stars. Cute! But I quickly ran out of interest in doing the stars, and left most of the circles blank.

DSC01849What next? I had committed to myself to experiment more with adding beading, so wanted to find away to add beading. Since so much fabric was cut away from around the circles, this area between circles intrigued me. Grabbing chalk, I tried sketching a random pattern around the circles. And. I. Loved. It. Finally I found the thing that makes this swatch sing!

DSC01850I love the undulating curve of the beaded line, the way the sparkly beads catch the light and make the whole piece move. I used the bugle beads with button craft thread and a simple running stitch went quite quickly.

DSC01853I love that depending on the angle or direction you look, the overall effect has so many different repeating patterns. I started this month’s swatch less than infused, and ended up really enjoying myself. Or maybe I found myself somewhere in the thread.

721e84f2adc74a2d68645da8382da5f5Quote from www.slowstitching.com

 

 

 

Opening up the February Swatch of the Month mail, I was thrilled to discover that it was the Angie’s Fall stencil pattern. This is one design I have long admired in the Alabama Chanin line. The top fabric was a lovely Italian Plum, and the bottom fabric a Ruby color. Yum!

IMG_3368The guide suggested to work in backstitch reverse applique with embroidery floss. I immediately started in, and enjoyed every second. Because of the intricate nature of the design, this swatch took a lot longer to complete, but was also very portable.

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Only needing the spool of embroidery floss and scissors, I could tuck in my bag and bring with me anywhere! I stitched a lot at work on my lunch break, and on the weekend in coffee shops. Anywhere I sat for a second I was stitching.

DSC01696After the stitching was done, I cut away the center pieces of the designs for the reverse applique. Many pieces were so small I didn’t cut them, so the pattern was very diverse. Adding in beading embellishment, I chose to do varying patterns in specific spots to emphasize the stencil.

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As this swatch took me so much longer than the other swatches I’ve stitched, this recent  article in Quilting Daily really spoke to me. I didn’t realize there was a growing interest in the “Slow Stitching Movement”, as I’ve always loved to hand stitch.

DSC01697In the article, they suggest to stitch intentionally. “When you slow stitch, think about what you want to accomplish with your stitching and focus on it intently.” The beading has been difficult for me, so I just try, and think about where I wanted to go, and do it slowly. The beading adds more time, but the end result is interesting and different. At first I was unsure of the beading, but as I added more, it added a pop and pizzazz that wasn’t there before.

DSC01699And of course here is my requisite back of the swatch photo. I love the tail ends of the string. There is one Alabama Chanin technique that keeps the knots on top of the fabric, I hope to try it on one of the swatches!

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As I’ve shared in previous points, I am drawing a quilt design each day. Sometimes it is a random sketch for the day and sometimes it is for a specific project. When I learned a good friend was expecting her second baby, I knew I wanted to make her son a quilt. I raided my fabric stash, and pulled out these fat quarters I purchased awhile back.

IMG_9156After sketching a design of large flying geese in a t-pattern, I did the math. Despite reading several tutorials on how to size flying geese triangles, and googling a fair amount of geometry reference, I still calculated my numbers wrong. Oops! When I sewed the triangles together, they didn’t quite match up for a rectangle, but it was easy enough to trim them down, and it didn’t affect the overall dimensions of the quilt at all. I will need to spend some more time with triangle geometry to figure out where I was going wrong! I think it has something to do with how much to add for seam allowance. Anyone with match skills have the answer?

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From my calculations, I headed to our local quilt shop to purchase a bit more fabric, as the fat quarters I already have weren’t enough. My phone came in handy to snap a picture in black and white to check my values. I was hoping to find additional fabrics to add to mix it up, but ended up purchasing more in the same fabric line.

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Because my block sizes were large, the top sewed together in a morning. What a thrill it was to see my first pattern materialized as a quilt top!

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For quilting, I wanted to go with a lighter colored thread so it wouldn’t stand out against the light colored fabric of the front and back. When in the quilt shop, I picked a turquoise to go with the tree color. Once I started quilting though, I was bummed with how it turned out, as the color became quite a bit darker against the white then I had expected. A good lesson to pick a lighter colored thread than you think you will want, as it will look darker against the white.

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This is also the first larger size quilt I’ve quilted completely on my new Brother sewing machine, and it was great! The machine performed wonderfully, humming away as I stitched, with no broken threads or weird tension or anything. The extended table made the quilt slide around easily, and I didn’t have any of the arm muscle stress I’ve had in the past. I also wanted to play around with some new patterns to stitch with, so spent a little while sketching with pencil different designs for the different areas. Quilting is a lot like zentangling!

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I think that is some of the pleasure of making a baby quilt. While I want the quilt to be nice, there is also a bit of freedom, because it is for a baby who doesn’t know if the seams match or the quilting is straight. All that really matters is I made it with love imagining the new little one coming into this world. I find it fun to make baby quilts because I can play with new colors and techniques. And no matter what, after popping them in the wash, they come out soft and snugly and perfect for a little one.

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Heading outside for a photo shoot, our chickens were very curious and came over to see what was going on!

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I liked the brown in the fabrics, so chose to bind the quilt with a brown polka dot I picked up in the Bay Area on our recent trip, when Lesley and I enjoyed going to the most delicious yarn and fabric shop ever, A Verb for Keeping Warm. I also tried a new technique in attaching my quilt labels. This time I ironed a quarter inch hem around the sides, then cut a piece of fusible webbing slightly smaller than the size of the hemmed label. I then ironed that to the label, and then to the quilt. This helped stabilize it as I whip-stitched the edges down, and kept the shape more square.

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After snapping a few photographs, I sent the quilt off in the mail. I’m super thrilled with making my first quilt design become a reality!

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Margaret had attended this year’s Road to California and taken the shibori dyeing class. She brought back what she learned to our Out of the Box quilt group. We had a lovely Sunday afternoon in Nela and Jan’s garden. PicMonkey Collage4

Margaret showed us some of the fabrics she had dyed in the shibori class.

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With the range of colors available to us with dyes, we took the traditional Japanese indigo dye art out of the box.

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Margaret showed us wrapping the fabric around a round tube, tying it with string, and painting the dye on. We experimented a bit with pre-wetting the fabric and painting the dye on dry fabric. On the right, the top half was fabric dry, and bottom half fabric wet. This method is called Arashi shibori.

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Other techniques we played with was folding the fabric in triangles, and pinning with clothespins and clamps, this method is called Kumo shibori. We also tried wrapped fabric around objects and dyeing. And also using rock salt to spread the color! It was a great afternoon of experimentation and fun. No measurements were made and no recipes followed. I can’t say if I used 1tsp or 1 TBS of dye powder, and sometimes I was mixing dyes together without knowing what I was using, but I can say I had fun!

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Here are my three fabrics I made. The top two were wrapped around a pole. The top pink was wrapped at a diagonal around a skinny broomstick handle. The middle blue was wrapped straight around a wide PVC pipe. The bottom was folded in triangles, pinned with clothespins, and dyed in a light brown. Once dry, I refolded into triangles again, pinned with clothespins, and dyed with pink.

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This piece is my favorite from the day’s experiments. I like the layers of colors the double dyeing gives. And I like the random pattern within the repeats. Makes me want to use it in a quilt!

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Looking at these fabrics, I remember the feel of the sun, the sparkle of the spring flowers, and the laughter of the ladies as we chatted and played. As we celebrate the first days of spring, I am grateful for friends and creativity and projects to come!

This weekend, I met up with my friend Tiffany to give her a brief introduction into natural dyeing. Since it was the following weekend after the mushroom dye workshop, I was excited to put some of the new things I learned into practice!

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Here’s my impromptu dyeing setup in the backyard: table chairs and stove! I dream of the day when I can have my own dye workshop …

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First new thing I tried different than in the past – little tests of yarn! Here Tiffany is tying small bundles. Since it is between seasons here, we didn’t really have any good plants to collect, so we used plants from our kitchen! We tried dyeing avocado skins and red cabbage leaves.

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The other new technique I tried was the double boiler! I really like the way it allowed to do multiple colors at the same time. Controlling temperature was also easier, as the jars never went up to a rolling boil. However, I should have taken the time to see how hot they did get. Next time!

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Avocado skins on the left, cabbage on the right.

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The avocado skins came out a simple tan color (alum mordant). Lovely!

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The red cabbage we did a neat experiment with! All three little skeins were mordanted with alum. After pulling all three out of the dye and rinsing them, we left one with only the alum mordant. The other two we played around with the pH. One was dipped in a vinegar bath and simmered for five minutes, and the other soda ash. The vinegar was supposed to turn it more red, and the soda ash green.

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The word supposed to is never good to use! When we first dropped the yarn into the soda ash, it did turn a pretty green. But then after leaving it for five minutes, the color changed to the muted yellow. Above, you can see a little green on the yarn when rinsing one skein touched the soda ash skein. Next time we should try pulling it out sooner! Above is also the vinegar on the left and the no change on the right. I don’t see any difference in their color, do you?

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A very fun experiment for a Sunday afternoon. Can’t wait for spring and summer to collect more dyestuff and to continue to play!

Two weeks ago I had the great pleasure of attending a Mushroom and Lichen Natural Dyeing workshop at the Berkeley Botanical Gardens, taught by Alisa Allen.

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This was my first formal natural dyeing class, all my previous experience has come from books and experimenting on my own. It was great to learn from someone with a lot of experience and passion. I picked up a few neat tricks that I look forward to incorporating into my home dye practice like pre-making test strips of yarn. Each string is a different mordant, tied together, ready to put in a small experiment batch of dye to see what range of colors can be achieved.

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Another trick I think is just brilliant is using one big pot with smaller glass jars as a type of double boiler. This allowed her to have multiple small batches of color going. This is a great way to speed up the process, dye many colors at the same time, and control temperature easier.

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Alisa discussed basic mushroom and lichen ecology, how to identify and where to collect. She brings a dehydrator in the field to dry the mushrooms after collecting to save for later! This also allows more predictability in repeating recipes, as the dry mushroom can be accurately weighed.

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Some of the lichens shared were crazy! When collecting lichens, she explained you only harvest off of falling branches, never live from a tree. Some lichens dye this crazy magenta purple. To test to see if the lichen has that ability, she shared a neat bleach testing method. Look at that color!

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The other very fascinating thing about mushrooms and lichen in dyeing, is that in addition to using mordants to bring out color, they are extremely susceptible to changes in pH. By making the dye bath more acidic or basic, the color can wildly change! Alisa would add vinegar or ammonia, checking pH as she went, to achieve optimal colors.

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By the end of the five hour class, we had twenty glorious colors all made from mushrooms and lichens the instructor had collected in California. DSC01664

Each skein was divided among the class participants, and we made a card showing the recipe to make each color. Along with a guide for what the mushrooms and lichens look like and where to collect them, we left the workshop well prepared to give it a try.

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We also each got to make a shibori silk scarf. We wrapped the scarf around a tube, wrapped with twine, scrunched it all down, and submerged it in dye. After unwrapping the whole bundle, a pattern almost like that of tree bark emerged. I can’t wait to try more shibori in the future.

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While I’m not sure if we have any mushrooms or lichens that dye colors here in the desert, I look forward to using some of the techniques learned in my other dyeing, and to forage for mushrooms next time I find myself in a more wet environment. I highly recommend taking one of her workshops if you have the opportunity. Thanks Lesley for being my model!

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