Sunday, July 25, 2010

It's Sunday already?!

I haven't been in my sewing room much at all this week, as other things have been demanding my time and attention: there have been plays to attend, and most pressing, two rooms to pack and clear out so that the contractors can start work tomorrow on renovating my home office space. A wall is coming down and 2 rooms will be combined into one which  will finally allow me to unpack all my  books, reclaim my garage and get back to the "new normal", whatever that will entail.

In the meantime, I did get a fabulous book, Quilt Savvy: Gaudynski's Machine Quilting Guidebook from the American Quilting Society, and it was worth every penny. I wish I had this book before I started quilting a few of my quilts; there are some invaluable tips and tutorials. I'm debating whether to continue quilting Chaos Theory, or take a break and practice what I've been reading about in my few moments of relaxation time this week.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Feminism and Fiber Arts

This post is inspired by this post and subsequent discussion thread at the Hands In Delight blog. Hands' observation that the women in her mother's generation (late 50's to early 60's) do not know how to crochet or knit or embroider may be true for her mother and her mother's peer group for some reason (I suspect that it has more to do with women clubbing together from other mutual interests), but it has not really been my experience at all. I am in my early 50's, and I am surrounded by contemporaries who excel in a multitude of fiber arts, who are also in the age range of Hand's mother, and also my own age.

She then wonders if feminism had anything to do with that generation's lack of interest in the fiber arts. I have to vehemently disagree with her. I think it is a matter of personal taste and priorities, and the thing that killed the ubiquitous knowledge of knitting, crochet, embroidery and sewing was the inception of cheap mass-produced manufactured clothing and housewares, first domestically and then from overseas. Feminism had little to nothing to do with it.

I was taught various needle arts by my mother, who was born in 1925, and who learned it from her mother. My mother worked a full-time job and had 2 careers (as a teacher and college professor and later, a novelist) over her lifetime, with a very brief period of "stay at home" when my brother and I were infants. The moment we were both in school, she was back to work as a teacher. I suppose this was considered unusual for the time, and she didn't work because the family needed the money; she worked because it was part of who she was. My grandmother also worked throughout my mother's childhood - she ran a small grocery store in the Bronx while my grandfather worked as a low-level bureaucrat for New York City. I am sketchy on the details of my mother's childhood and her parent's financial situation, but I am guessing that both my grandparents worked because they wanted the extra money to provide for their family. So I suppose you could say that I came from a family of feminist needle-artists.

I think the "demise" of needle arts came about more from the pre-feminist thinking that these skills were "women's work" and therefore beneath any "real" artistic endeavors, so perhaps artistically-bent women in the 60's were eschewing these types of skills in favor of the more "masculine" or "high" arts of painting and sculpture - areas that before the feminist movement were not really open to women. I also think that social class had something to do with this as well. Fine embroidery and tapestry work was historically done by women in the upper classes, whereas the more mundane everyday textiles and clothing were created by the lower classes in the 19th century and before. With the advent of the weaving mills and factories, this became even more pronounced. Once women were "freed" from a lot of the gender-specific "mundane household tasks" they took on a stigma - there are plenty of women of  the "feminist" generation in the wealthier strata of society that don't even like to cook! So maybe this is more of a class thing than a "feminist" thing.

And honestly, I don't think there was that much of a demise - remember the Society for Creative Anachronism was started in Berkeley CA in 1975, and by the mid 1980's had grown into an international organization with groups all over the world - this organization prized hand-made items reviving ancient arts and crafts in many areas including needlework and sewing (and also metal and leather working) and working with raw materials - so people were teaching themselves to card and spin wool and other fibers and take up hand-weaving again. I think the current resurgence in crafting and the home-craft movement of today owes a bit to the SCA and the hippies and their tie-dyed textiles and beadwork.

Well, I'm off my sopabox for now, and I'm dying to get back to my sewing machine!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Quilting "Chaos Theory"

I started quilting Chaos Theory, which is the name I've given to the quilt formerly known as the Challenge Quilt, that I discussed in these earlier posts. I decided to do all the dark purple thread first, and I've completed the center section and the large sashing sections surrounding the tortured 9-patch blocks. I recently purchased an 80/20 low loft batting, and I'm not really liking it too much. Yes, it's easy to work with, but so far, I don't think it's showing off the quilting as much as I'd like. Although, if you get the lighting just right, you can see it.

I'm trying my hand at free-hand feathers, and from the front, they don't look too bad. If you look at the back of the quilt, it's a whole other matter. Not being able to see where you stitched when you're going in reverse and supposedly retracing your steps doesn't work too well. I don't know if another foot would improve things, or I just have to wait until I get a long-arm machine to really be able to do these properly, but all-in-all, I'm not disappointed in my progress as a quilter. This is an improvement over my last quilt.

I also used that basting gun to baste this quilt, and it's not too bad. The tacks sometimes get hung up on the throat plate or in the thread so I cut them off when I'm working near one.

It does take a while to get back in the rhythm of quilting after not doing it for a while. I should probably have some practice pieces sitting around to warm up with before going at a quilt that I want to do something with. In the future, I will remember to have a warm-up piece waiting before I get started. I still have a ways to go before I'll be happy with my quilting results. So the debate is: do I quilt Goose by myself, or send it out to a long-arm quilter?

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Lunchbag and a Sweater

We will return shortly to our regularly scheduled quilting, but for now, here is a lunchbag that I made for my daughter to take her copious food allocation and water bottles to camp in (she's in a theater camp for 8 hours a day in an unairconditioned theater, and they require the kids to use reusable water bottles and she takes a lot of food and snacks with her). I used the "seat of your pants" design method: rough measurements of the paper shopping bag that she used the first week (until it fell apart from being damp from the water bottle condensation), and eyeballing the side pocket to fit one of her water bottles.

I had bought 3 or 4 yards of this cupcake fabric on a whim because it was cute and inexpensive. I figured this was a good use for it. I used the stiffest interfacing that I had on-hand, which is pretty stiff, but it could be stiffer, and I think I've found some at the Pellon website for future totes and messenger bags.

I also finally finished the Wisteria sweater from Twist Collective (yarn from Knit Picks). The "Arsenic & Old Lace" Production Sweater is complete, except for blocking. And it fits!

I am determined to start quilting the Challenge quilt, which I have named "Chaos Theory", but more on that later.

Till next time, keep on quilting!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Fabirc Painting with Tsukenieko Inks

Since I seem to be spending my time during this heat wave finishing up a knitting project (because I can sit in front of the air conditioner and knit, rather than be in my hot sewing room), I thought I'd post a retrospective about some work I did a few years ago.

Back in 2006, I religiously watched Simply Quilts when it was aired on the HGTV network. One episode featured Lura Schwarz Smith and her quilt Seams Like Degas. She demonstrated the technique she used to make the faces in that quilt, using Tsukenieko inks. I was very excited about these techniques; I was thinking about using them for my mother's portrait quilt, so I went out and purchased a whole bunch of the inks and supplemental tools (pens, stand, "ready to dye" fabric, etc.).

In order to learn how to use the inks, I gave myself a small project: to create a series of wall hangings representing the 5 "esoteric" elements of air, earth, water, fire and spirit. For the first four elements (air, earth, water, fire) I wanted to use animal representations. I was also thinking that I would do a few series of these, so for my first batch, I chose animals from the class Mammalia: a bat for air, a stag for earth, a lion for fire, and a sea otter for water.

I started with a rough pencil sketch on newsprint, and placed the newsprint and a piece of dyer's cloth on a clear plastic clipboard, which acted like a light box. I traced the sketch using black ink and a fine-tip pen onto the fabric, took it from the clipboard, and heat set the outline.

Then, using a spray bottle, I soaked the fabric. Then I applied the background colors, being careful not to get too much ink in the area where the animal was going to be. To get the hand-dyed fabric effect, the ink is applied in random spots and then you crumple the wet fabric into a ball. When you open it up, the ink has spread all over the fabric. If you need to remove some ink from an area, you can rinse it or soak it out. Once you have your background the way you want it, heat-set the ink again.

NOTE: if you don't put paper or a pillowcase or other fabric under the piece you are working on when you iron, you will stain your ironing surface. (I discovered that the hard way).

Then I colored in the foreground figure. For the stag wall hanging, I decided that a crescent moon would add a lot to the image. I decided this after I had made the background. Luckily, the white ink is opaque, and a few layers of it covered the green pretty well. The final image is then heat set.

For these pieces, I simply added 2 fabric frames around the inked fabric, and quilted and bound them like I would have any other quilt (as you can see, my binding techniques weren't quite up to "show standards"). One additional thing I did on the Lion quilt is that I used thread painting to do the mane.

All of these mini quilts were made using my trusty old Singer. I didn't have a darning foot, so all the quilting was done "bare needle" - which I know you're not supposed to do as it's pretty dangerous. I didn't stab myself on these, but I did on another quilt, which prompted me to finally get my Viking.