Muscle Memory

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m trying to spend less time on the computer and more time in the studio. The bad news is I’m behind on blogging and email. But the good news is I’m halfway done quilting this big work, and I’ve got another quilt cut out on the design wall and and almost ready to quilt.

This quilt is only the second one I’ve done on my Inspira Frame that I got in January, but I’m approaching it totally different than I did the Towers of Babble. I loaded that quilt according to instructions – the top on one roller bar, the batting on another bar, and the backing on a third. Because I was unsure of my ability to deal with all the little figures, I quilted the entire background like a blanket, then fused and sewed the figures on top.

Now that I look back at it, I’m not happy with that method. It looks too flat, and quilting the figures on top of a quilt seemed redundant. Not sure about if it saved or wasted time — it took me almost 60 hours to quilt it.

So with this quilt, I returned to my technique of fusing all the figures down and gluing the quilt sandwich together with 505 spray. However when I put it on the frame roller bars, some of the bigger pieces started to come off, especially the cake which is a big heavy piece of fabric.

I took the quilt off the frame and stabilized the entire thing by stitched down all the black lines with my Bernina. I usually stitch down the black lines anyway, but since I usually do that as I go along quilting from the center out, it took some faith that I would not end up with unwanted bubbly lumps. (For those who keep asking about the black lines, I’ve written about those in previous posts in the archives: “help I lost my head” and “build a bridge”.)

Then I had the idea to roll the face side out to help avoid some buckling. I’ve also learned that I don’t even have to roll the front section onto a bar — I can leave it hanging down free and control the tension of the fabric with one of my hands. This saves some time since I keep taking the quilt on and off the frame.

However I still have the most control sewing when I can control the machine speed with a foot pedal, leaving both my hands completely free to move the quilt. So for things like faces, I return the quilt to work on my Bernina.

I always try to come up with new stitching patterns for different objects, and right now I’m trying to think of something good for the cake and the bar. Sometimes I just improv these stitching patterns right on the machine. Other times I practice on paper with a pencil. I got this idea after reading a book about how Matisse did his collage cut-outs, he would practice drawing shapes on paper over and over. Then when he moved to cutting out his painted paper with scissors, he had developed a kind of “muscle memory” for certain forms. So the cutouts were skillful, but at the same time, looked fresh and spontaneous.

I feel like a Genius today

Monday the Uncommon Threads museum show came down, and I got this quilt back. I didn’t have time to take a proper photo of it before the show. Since my work has been getting bigger, it’s getting harder to photograph, and when Lisa Call posted photos of her portable photo wall, I started thinking about building a photo wall in my studio.

Before today, I had one of my design boards on a painting easel. It was sort of rickety, but worked for the smaller pieces. A quilt this big would have hung way over the edges, and probably knocked the whole system over.

Here’s my brain storm. I have these design boards made out of 4′ x 8′ insulation boards, framed with wood, and wrapped in flannel. I move them around and lean them against walls as needed. Actually they are 4′ x 7′ because I had to cut off one foot so they would fit underneath the lights in my studio. It just so happens that 4′ x 7′ is the same size as some metal shelves that I got at Sam’s.

Here’s the good part — we moved the shelves out to the middle of the room, and screwed the design boards to the back of the shelves (this was easy because the shelves have slots for adjustable shelves all up and down the supporting legs). Then I covered the boards with another layer of flannel to hide the split between the two boards. And look, moving the shelves freed up the wall in my paint/dye area for something else!

Don’t you just love it when something works so well? Maybe it’s because I’ve been getting up early for 6 a.m. yoga, and riding my bike to class instead of driving. It really makes me feel energetic, especially when there is left-over steak and potatoes in the frig for breakfast when I get home.

Dyed and Gone to Heaven

I haven’t dyed anything in a long time, but have been thinking about it. I use lots of commercially printed fabric and love tone-on-tone patterns, so have been wanting to try to make my own by over-dyeing pre-printed fabrics. But the warehouse has been too cold, AND Russ bought me a stainless steel sink at an auction for a sushi bar that went out of business last fall. So of course so I’ve been waiting for him to hook it up.

Now the new sink is installed, so I got down to business last night. IT’S WONDERFUL! I love the three deep bowls because I can do a different step in each section.

I used Melody’s Lazy Dyer technique, thank you Melody! I guess I’m super lazy because I skipped one step. The only problem with the method is waiting until the next day to see your results.

I started with oranges and reds because I want to use some for my current project. These are my first attempts that I just ironed, and the others are in the dryer. But the real reason I started this project is because I have some black and white fabrics that I want to over-dye with black for PaMdora’s hair.

I’ll have to check after it’s dry, but I think I went over-board on the black and have lost the original pattern, so I’m reading with interest Melody’s current post about dyeing blacks. Maybe I need to tone down my black with another color or shorten the dye time, or both?

Sewing with Company

It’s time to send my quilt off to Visions for final approval and photography for the book. But when I finally got around to packing it up, I suddenly realized that the one selected was the second cartoon quilt I made, and I wasn’t happy with the binding or the hanging sleeve. So I had to redo all that before shipping.

This little Chinese boy is a ceramic planter that has followed me around forever although I’ve often tried to get rid of it, until I thought to make him into a needle cushion. Now he keeps me company when I do hand-sewing. I wonder what’s in his bowl – not watermelon seeds, in case you’re wondering. That’s just the back of the quilt.

A Day with Wisconsin PBS

It was a gray rainy Saturday when the PBS crew from Wisconsin came to interview me and videotape my studio for an art quilt documentary. However, in my windowless studio, it’s always colorful and bright! Since I forgot to take photos, I drew this illustration to show you what the day was like.

Very exciting, but in spite of my pre-event jitters, it went pretty well. No trees or animals were harmed. Nothing blew up or caught on fire. I actually made something for the camera, and it turned out okay — this little guy:

I would have been more nervous, had I known the truth. We were taping in HDTV! So shows every whisker and every pore. But it was only afterwards that I learned this, and Frank the camera man knew how to pacify a proud parent, he said, “But your quilts will look wonderful!”

For the documentary, they have been interviewing quilt artists in the Chicago area (Melody and others) and will be doing more taping at the Art Quilts at the Sedgwick show in April. I really enjoyed working with everyone. They were very laid-back and made me comfortable throughout the day. The only real discomfort was that I couldn’t work in the studio without music playing, and for me that’s pretty hard to endure.

I can’t even remember what Laurie (the producer) asked me during my sit-down interview, but the next day I woke up thinking about all the things I SHOULD have said. The documentary will be broadcast on PBS stations sometime in March 2007, so I have lots of time to forget the things I said that I SHOULDN’T have said.

Being a visual person, I wish I could see all the extras that Frank taped – like his wide pans of my studio and my fabric shelves. Watching him walk around the studio with his camera, I was glad I had cleaned up my inspiration boards.

I have one inspiration board hanging in my quilting area and another in my dye/embellishment, and these boards are the same that I use for my design wall. In answer to Gerrie’s question, these are made of 4’x8′ sheets of blue insulation board that I got at Lowe’s. (one side painted white so the blue and the writing doesn’t show)

We framed them with wood strips and wrapped them in flannel, then stapled the flannel to the back of the wood frame. (Also put some wood cross members in back for a little more stability.) I like them because they are big, but light, so I can easily carry them to another room for our Uncommon Threads meetings. Because the flannel is tacky, fabric sticks to it, or if I’m putting up lots of fabric, I can pin right into the boards.

I actually worked at cleaning and organizing my studio for over a month, because of the documentary and to make room for my new Inspira quilting frame. You can see by the photos that I love to collect all sort of stuff – especially magazines and graphics from the 50’s and 60’s, so my studio does tend to get out of control sometimes.

But now that it’s really clean, I’ll try to take some more photos. Last year when I first set up my website, I spent a lot of time cleaning and taking photos. But in the end, I guess it was worth it – the PBS producer contacted me after seeing my studio on my website.

The other thing that keeps popping into my head is a quote I read in Fiber Arts magazine last year (sorry, I can’t remember the artist though). She was being interviewed about creativity in mid-life, and she said she had been trying to justify keeping the lease on a large studio that was rather expensive. She said something like “never under-estimate the power that seeing your own work displayed on the walls of a studio has on your development as an artist.” I believe this is true – I don’t think I would be where I am now without the studio that I am so lucky to have.

A Really Big Pattern

I’ve finally gotten around to posting some photos from our sculpture adventures after Quilt National on our blog for RuBert Studios, but I couldn’t resist putting these here. I’m help Rob and True Fisher assemble a huge pattern for a sculpture installation in a hospital lobby. Rob Fisher is a friend who does installations like this one in the Philadelphia International Airport.

Can you image making art this big? I was a little in my element, because I usually make patterns for quilt, but not this big! It gave me real aspirations. The installation was complicated, and Russ took great photos of the process that you can see here.

This installation was done at night after the hospital closed, so we could still accomplish the main purpose of the trip, to take some photos and do some maintenance on the sculpture Russ installed in April.

There are always kids at the site, and we found out that they affectionately call the sculpture “The Hersey Kiss” and “The Funion” because it looks like an onion, but it’s fun.


This morning fellow blogger Melody posted a photo that would seem to indicate that a certain powerful and influencial person has frequently visited her studio for fusing lessons.

Not to be outdone, I’ve posted evidence that a celebrity, although certainly less powerful, but a celebrity none the less has visited my studio recently to discuss color theory.

And I quote, “Pick the pink polka-dots, baby, they’re SMASHING.”

Of course he is a little thin if you look at him from the side.

My Studio Neighborhood

Yesterday was a beautiful day, I went downtown for a while and picked up some of my quilts at the gallery. When I got to the studio, I couldn’t figure out where Russ was. Eventually I found him–up on the roof. He was filling a 23-foot tall pole with concrete for a structural element for a sculpture he is working on. Crazy guy, he had to carry buckets of concrete up there. Maybe I’m glad I didn’t find him earlier.

Then today the temperature rapidly dropped, so he was worried that the concrete wouldn’t cure properly. We discussed several ways to keep the pipe warm, and he decided to wrap it in blankets. I helped on the lower parts, but am not too good at climbing on the roof, so I turned my camera to our little studio neighborhood.

I’d like to say our studio is in a cool location with trendy restaurants, but it’s actually in an industrial area where many of the buildings look like they were built in the 60’s. I went up to several doors, but none of our neighbors seemed to be home — I guess they don’t work on Sundays.

One of these buildings has a big hole under it where a beaver lives. There’s a little creek at the end of our street, and in the summer we watch him waddle up and down the street and then disappear under this wall.

Here’s an attractive truck that is always parked on the side of our studio, but I have no idea who it belongs to. I guess the mobile unit isn’t very mobile.

Another great neighbor. I wonder what they think of us, always carting weird stuff in and out of the studio. I’m not so impressed with them since I know someone who went there when his transmission failed. They told him the guy that fixes transmissions was out of town. That’s when I realized that they’re not really the World’s Largest Transmission Specialists.

Across from the other side of our corner is a huge factory, I could barely get the whole thing with my camera.

Right in the middle of the factory is a two-story paper cup. Every time another paper cup factory buys this building, they paint a new name on the cup. It used to have colorful swirls on it, but I guess that part got too hard to repaint. One time I did a video animation of a big head in the sky drinking from the straw.

The Solo Cup factory has these huge towers on the side facing my office. Sometimes they make an awful humming noise, so then I go to my studio in the back of our building. I have no idea what they’re doing in there.

Here’s where we used to eat lunch every day, before they remodeled the Catfish House down the street and put in a Subway. The people at Schlotzsky’s are friendlier though, and always ask about the art. They have a chalkboard that has a question every day, and if you get the right answer, you can win a cookie. We’ve won a lot of cookies, especially when they forget to change the question from the day before.

And here we are back at our studio. We painted it bright colors to make it not look so 1960. I wanted Russ to cover up the block on the side with stainless steel, so it would look like a Bork spaceship. But he said that would be hard and expensive. He did put up some nice signs though.

Once in a while, we have an open house or a crazy halloween party. Then we stick this sign out in the front yard to warn the neighbors. For some reason, they never seem to complain that the music’s too loud.