Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Roots and Wings

...aka Project from Hell.

It all started many, many moons ago, when I awoke with a vision in my head. It involved the picture of a tree with many leaves. Somehow, these leaves would involve pictures of family members (or possibly these pictures would appear somewhere else). There would be birds or butterflies in the sky, and possibly pictures embedded in the bark of the tree itself. The lines of quilting would include the words "roots and wings." I don't mean to hit you over the head with this message...

The vision of this project came to me before I had any real clue as to how to acheive this goal. Until that point, I had only sewn straight lines. Would I have to learn to (gasp) applique? Would I have to learn to free-motion quilt? What was up with image transfers, anyway? When I saw a class being taught on creating landscape quilts, I jumped at the chance to see what I could do. It was a Snippet Sensations class taught by Walters, and was extremely fun. The class gave me the means I needed to create the tree design, as well as the courage to try free-motion quilting.

In choosing the picture that I would use as a guide, the design ended up changing. I stumbled across a photo of a tree from underneath the branches, with the sun shining through. The composition intrigued me, and I loved the focus on moving upwards and out into the sky. Now, the idea of including pictures in the design itself was unthinkable. Surely, then, I could include pictures in the border. I would quilt family members' handprints around them!

But then, as the design took shape, I knew that I didn't want to interrupt the color of the border around the main design. So, the photo-transferred images went by the wayside pretty quickly. I ended up quilting the handprints in the border, and then quilting heavily around them to make them stand out. Before I assembled the quilt sandwich, though, I machine embroidered the names of all the family members in the border where the corresponding handprints would appear.

The end result is what you see here. I didn't get a chance to get too many photos of the quilt, as I normally would, because my camera ended up running out of battery juice. I'll have get more pictures later that showcase the machine quilting I did, which was more complex than I had previously done.

And now, friends, it's time to rest for a bit before tackling the next quilt on the list.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Project From Hell

Think of a large snowball being set to roll down a rather large, snowy hill. As it rolls, it gains more and more layers of snow, along with its own momentum. Pretty soon you have a fast-moving giganto ball of snow that could potentially take over the world. This is the nature of the project I am desperately trying to finish in time to take to my parents back home (in St. Louis) over this coming weekend. My plane leaves tomorrow night, so I have only one more night to complete the project and pack for the trip.

The quilt is a wall hanging for my parents. I will make sure to include pics and more details when it's complete, in the event that I don't burn it first. Suffice it to say that the project has multiplied exponentially like the Blob from Outer Space, or whatever the large thing of Jello that grew and grew and grew and took over New York was called. I had originally decided to make the main design twice as large as a recent quilt, which had been created on a fat quarter of white cotton. But, instead of multiplying one dimension by 2, I did both dimensions, ending up with pretty much a yard of fabric. I trimmed this up a bit to keep to a 4 X 6 ratio, but it was essentially four times as big, not two. Thus begins the snowballing.

All the same, the main design was completed fairly quickly, as I had about a week to myself and just about all the supplies at the ready. However, the quilt then languished on hold while I was still in search of family pictures I didn't end up using. I also got caught up in two other quilts (See The Wendy Quilt; it was one of the two.) and life in general.

Then, I picked it back up after I returned from a trip to Florida. Surely it would be downhill from here? All I had to do was slap a border on the sucker, quilt, bind, and add a hanging sleeve. Right.

So, the uphill battle began. I had it in my head that I wanted to quilt handprints of the family in the border, so the border had to be large enough to accomodate the hands. I never knew what freakishly big hands my family had! They're huge!!! So, in order to fit them in, I had to add NINE inches to each side, thereby making the already large wall hanging ginormous in proportions. This, I could tell, was going to be wonderfully fun to quilt. So, I added the borders.

I lost an entire evening of quilt-time to figuring out that one should not put spray adhesive on tracing paper. It does not hold it to the fabric, but does, in fact, hold it to EVERYTHING ELSE. Meanwhile, I was struggling with stiching our names in the border where the handprints were to go, since this stitching needed to happen before the actual quilting.

Next problem: now the quilt top was so large that no amount of fabric that I had could quite cover it. I would have to piece the backing. Thus went another several hours, figuring out how I would do such a thing, what made the most sense, and then executing it properly.

It was then that I discovered that I am not really equipped to handle such large quilts in my small Chicago condo. The table we have was too narrow to handle the entire quilt flat, so I had to baste the quilt in sections, which meant squaring it up and making sure it was even was an almost impossible task. I still don't think I quite got it right.

Once I had the quilt basted, I thought, I was on my way. I just had to roll the quilt, start in the middle, and get going. I had already selected the free-motion design, had my thread, and thought all was right with the world. Somewhere in the process, about a quarter of the way in, I started to have problems with the sewing. The thread kept getting tangled and knotted in the quilt. After several tries at reigning this in, I tried a different thread in the bobbin, thinking that perhaps the invisible nylon thread was the culprit. At first, this seemed to work. Then things just got worse. Finally, I ended up peering into the guts of my machine, armed with the baby screwdriver and the little brush thing. Perhaps, perhaps if I just gave it a good cleaning, it would be fine to continue with?

The cleaning didn't work. Not only didn't it work, but a major screw had jumped ship, diving into the guts of my machine. An hour later, my Charles and I emerged victorious with the screw, but I was no closer to a solution. Now, the thread problem was the least of my worries. Somewhere in there my machine went on strike and refused to pull bobbin thread up from the bottom. There was no chance at even sewing a bit.

The deadline looming less than a week away, I called the nearest Baby Lock dealer. They said I could bring my machine in and they would have it back to me in 7-10 days, or possibly longer, depending on what was wrong with it. Distraught, and not knowing what to do, I ended up following Charles's suggestion to purchase a backup machine, just getting by with the cheapest option I could find. Trouble is, not many machines come with a free-motion foot, which is what I was cheifly concerned about.

So, off to the sewing store I traipsed, hoping to find someone who could find a machine and a presser foot that would suit my immediate needs. Again, not many machines come with the right presser foot. Also, I became reacquainted with just how wonderful my Baby Lock is. Features that I had come to take for granted are by no means standard issue on most of the machines out there. For example, most machines ask you to fend for yourself in terms of threading the needle. And they defintely don't tie off your stitches automatically and cut your thread for you.

In the end, I settled on a Husqvarna that was much more than I really wanted to spend. I justified it in the end by saying, "I'll have a spare now, in case anything goes wrong again."

So, then, the learning curve began on using the new machine, threading the needle, winding a bobbin, and gaining an understanding of its speed and capabilities. This process has caused its share of problems, including knots in thread, jammed needles, and many curse words, some combinations borrowed from Charles's repertoire of words that have been honed over the many hours of online multiplayer video games he has under his belt. Every time I thought I had one variable accounted for, something else would crop up.

And then, there were just the idiodic moments when, for instance, I would sew my quilting gloves to the quilt. All the while, I have been maneuvering the monstrosity that this quilt has become, and wondering where, oh where, it all went so horribly wrong.

Now, here I am, the eve of my departure to St. Louis, with the following to do to finish the quilt:

--finish quilting the border
--square up the quilt
--create and sew on hanging sleeves
--sew binding to front
--hand-stitch binding to back
--hand-stitch hanging sleeves to back

Keep in mind that I am not a fast hand-stitcher.

Something tells me that it's not all going to get done. That tomorrow, over my lunch break at work, I will be hand-stitching my heart out. That I'll be doing it at the airport, on the plane, at my brother's house later that night, and every spare moment up until the last minute.

All I can say is that my mom had better cry when she and Dad open it.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Wendy Quilt

Here's what I am calling the Wendy Quilt. I made it for a friend of mine, who, oddly enough, is named Wendy. The size of the quilt is about 2 feet by 4 feet and was created using a sunprinting method. I collected the leaves on a walk around the block of my condo. Three colors of paint contributed to the purply goodness of the quilt: violet, indigo, and magenta. I hand-embroidered the stems radiating out from the large branch of small leaves to the bottom left of the quilt. I used a combination of metallic threads in silver, slate, and smoky purple for the embroidery thread. I couched silver eyelash yarn on as the main branch for the separate stems, as well as the stems of the three oak leaves at the top of the quilt.

Once I was satisfied with the embellishments, I created the quilt sandwich and went to town quilting outlines around the leaves. Pretty soon I discovered the effect of adding in lines to represent the veins of leaves. Once I had outlined the areas I wanted, I went back through and quilted some free-formed leaves and flowers to fill in the blank spots.

At the last minute, I decided the bottom of the quilt needed something, so I created a leaf from Angelina fibers and stiched it directly onto the quilt. It doesn't show up in the pictures very well, but the leaf has folds and crevices in it like a real leaf, and adds a three-dimensional look to the piece.

I opted out of a border for the piece, and decided to let it speak on its own. All that was left was creating the rod pocket and binding the quilt. Lesson learned: having something crafty to do with your hands, like hand-stitch the binding onto a quilt, is a good way to pass the time on an airplane. But, when you don't finish it on the plane, you end up working on it in your hotel room at night.

The end result was a Purple Quilt of Goodness that I almost didn't give away. Which begs the question: Should I be keeping more quilts for myself, or just making quilts that aren't so fun?

Roxywriter's First Post

"Better late than never," is how the saying goes, and does a fair job of describing my feeble attempts to join the blogosphere. There I was, cruising around on the ether that is the Internet, finding blog after blog and wondering why I couldn't do this. So, here I am. Blogging for the first time.

I know that I am very much a visual learner, and there are many out there who process things in exactly the same way. To this end, I DO plan on adding photos later on. I just returned from a trip to Orlando, and would love to share some of the lamest pictures ever taken on vacation. Also on the coming attractions list: the latest and greatest of my quilt creations. I made this and took it to a friend in Orlando for her birthday. She almost didn't get it, since I really wanted to keep it!

So, if you dropped in on the lamest blog known to mankind, take heart. It will get better. As with just about everything in life, and certainly just like me, it's a work in progress.