Karen writes about life as a Quiltmaker in Austin, Texas; surviving in an empty nest, marriage, cooking, gardening and (did I say?) Quilting...

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Piecing a Modern Armadillo

Great good fun this month.

Decided a couple months ago to enter a contest. The Modern Quilt Guild (www.themodernquiltguild.com)  did a call for quilt block entries for a raffle quilt. To be raffled off concurrent with QuiltCon, This new national (international?) organization of "modern" quilters is holding it first annual meet up right here in Austin in February of 2013, and I recently joined the local Austin Modern Quilt Guild. I guess I'm fueling my Geminic nature by playing in both the traditional quilt world that I know so well, and now the "Modern" quilt world. So I thought it appropriate that I enter the block challenge.

I decided the block needed to be "Texas-centric", and if possible somewhat "Austinish"... one of the first things to come to mind was the Armadillo. An animal somewhat unknown much outside Texas and the Southern US, but one that as come to symbolize Austin to some extent. In Austin, the armadillo is of course an almost prehistoric animal found typically dead on the side of the road, or (more often) mentioned as the name of an iconic music venue - known as "Armadillo World Headquarters" -  long closed, but symbolic of Austin's Texas music roots.

The rules were surprisingly specific (IMHO) for what should be a somewhat non-traditional design. The bloock needed to express the modern quilt esthetic, and be entirely pieced... no applique, which likely would have been my first construction choice for putting a critter on the block!

Not one to reinvent the wheel, I searched my library for an animal picture, or even a block pattern that might be adapted for piecing, I recall seeing various pieced animal blocks in a couple of my quilt block "history" books... animals blocks were very popular in children's quilts from the late 1920's until about  WWII.

I found not only a block, but specifically an Armadillo Block. It was not quite the right size, but certainly adaptable with a few changes and the addition of the QuiltCon logo colors...It was found in a 1986 book called "Creature Comforts" by quilt historian Barbara Brackman, and quilter Marie Shirer. The book rediscovered "Animal Blocks" from a number of historical quilt pattern sources, and presented them as "alphabet" blocks... the book is still available on Amazon, and worthy of addition to your quilting library!
 Here's a link...  http://amzn.to/WqHbTR

The design of the source design was for a single color, and the proportions didn't fit the requirements for my challenge block size, so some modifications were necessary...  Here's how the design ended up:

I felt like he really, REALLY needed an embroidered eye, but the rules said NO embellishment or applique, so the armadillo remained somewhat blind!

The block challenge was curated by Elizabeth Hartman, a Modern Quilt author (Modern Patchwork), and MQ blogger: www.ohfransson.com

In September, I was happily informed that my Dillo was to be included in the raffle quilt. And today, I received the happy view of the finished MQG raffle quilt - complete with Dillo - sitting in the lower right hand corner of the quilt top. Elizabeth apparently agreed with my assessment that 'dillo needed an eye, and she added not only the eye, but the date for the quilt in fine black embroidery.

Here's the finished quilt top - complete with dillo....

Here's  a link to the Modern Quilt Guild Blog with additional pictures, and Elizabeth's comments about my block. Can't wait til I can buy some raffle tickets - would be so nice to win this quilt eh?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Workin' for a Living'...

First apologies to any single (and it must be single) reader that may be waiting oh-so-patiently for another post from this writer about Quilting, Life and such...

It has been way too long. Please accept my apologies for the almost unforgiveable 6 month lapse.

Let me reassure you that life, and quilting continue to go on, perhaps at a greater pace than ever before!  I must add too that "work"... I speak now of that "work" that we must all do to provide the means to quilting, pay the rent, fill up the tank - the work that may or may not be our greatest pride, or something that we wake up anxious to do each day... has taken a new turn for me.

In the past work was, well a bit too important part of my life. It was, well, almost a reason for being, something I looked forward to as, well my raison d'etre - that which defined my relative success, well being, and well, just darned important to my good spirits.

That changed fairly recently. Due to circumstances somewhat (though not totally) beyond my control, my work a day has become, well, just a work-a-day... something I will likely continue to do because I must, not because I WANT too.....What a difference a day makes.

But, be that as it may, I will try to focus on my quilting, and life... work, well, it just has to be - otherwise, we don't eat - or at least not well!

So what's on the sewing machine?  A "show" quilts - finishing up a quilt top that was, actually the first work I put together in Houston after I began re-discovering my sewing roots. A 1930's Sunflower quilt, I found the pattern in one of my earliest books acquired as I began to research quilting patterns. Called "Sunflower" it's  a variation of the old Dresden Plate Pattern...

With the deadline approaching for the September AAQG quilt show, I was growing a bit desperate - none of my recent UFO's (unfinished projects) really seemed appropriate for a "Wildflower" themed show entry... I turned to some older works and was rewarded with an almost forgotten "Sunflower".

Adding some "Blanket Stitching" to the top - then on to the quilting....This one's for me....

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Trip Back in Time... Sewing a "Portrait"

Happy 2012... another year!  Rather than a list of resolutions, a list of UFO's (unfinished quilting objects) to be tackled, I think I just decided to dive right in.
I want to continue honing my quilting skills this year, and am going to continue taking workshops from our AAQG (Austin Area Quilt Guild) speaker series. I've always benefited greatly from the offerings. On Sunday, I attended a workshop by Lola Jenkins, on Portrait Quilting. And it turned out to be not only a good exercise, but gave me some reassurance that skills long unused can be resurrected.

As a child, I remember admonitions that you'll never forget "how to ride a bike" or "how to use a hammer"... etc. I once learned the technique of rendering a portrait, in pastels, watercolor, and even the talent of cutting a silhouette from paper. I wish I could say this lead to a career in the arts, but alas, these talents were buried away, largely unused in my business life that ensued.  I learned and used these skills for 3-4 years in my late teens, as I worked for a subcontractor at Six Flags Over Texas, a "theme park" in the Dallas area. The contractor provided artists for "Art studios" located around the park.

As an "artist" I did quick portraits, in pastels, and watercolors of park visitors who were cajoled into taking 10-20 minutes of their day long park visit to sit for a portrait. Often the motivation was simply to take some weight off their feet and sit down for the time it would take! Young high school and college students were recruited for this largely summer work. Anyone who exhibited enough ability to make a decent line drawing during the job "interview" was hired. A short class on portraiture and the quick technique and we were on the job. I enjoyed the work, and got to be pretty good - if you could catch an individual's defining characteristics, you could end up with a line of people waiting for your work. As commissioned work, the money was good - much better than the usual teen work fare, and it kept me in college tuition for several years...so adapting those skills to that of my current tool (the sewing machine) and technique (free motion quilting) seemed natural.

Throughout the class, I was pleased to see that my old skills of not just drawing, but working on the human face were not lost. Here's the original picture, and the first result on fabric:

The exercise gave me some ideas on working in a little different style - more like "sketching" with the machine rather than just doing outlines.  It is exciting to see the picture emerge.
Here, you can also see my pencil work on the fabric that serves as  my guide for the sewing. I doubt I would ever get comfortable "drawing" directly on the fabric without pre-drawing, but who knows... if I got comfortable enough with the tools and my skills - it might be possible... stay tuned!

For those wondering what's going on here, it's really not as hard as it looks. I "Photo Shopped" the digital picture above into a"posterized" photo to reveal critical outlines. Printed to 8.5 x 11 inches in B&W, I traced the outlines for stitching in fine Sharpie (above) and pencil (version two below). 
The prepared fabric was  stabilized with a fusible interfacing, then layered with a thin cotton batting, and a backing layer. No pinning or basting. Then the drawn lines are sewn over in black thread with black bobbin - using free motion technique.

Overall, I'm pleased so far, though getting those eyes right are always a big challenge, but very important to success.

For more on Lola Jenkins work, visit her website: www.lolasdesignerquilts.com I would highly recommend her for anyone compemplating doing more "out of the box" quilting. A self-taught quilter, she isn't bound by all those "rules" that long time quilters have floating around in our ethos. Her unabashed enthusiasm for her art, and for sharing it others was an inspiration. Her personality was refreshingly different from the usual, more sedate one more typical of those of the past. I applaud the guild for going out on a limb to showcase a talent that doesn't fit the more typical quilter mold.

It's good to get out of the box - even if sometimes it means digging deep to pull out some new/old skills.

Happy New Year Y'all - may your 2012 be full of discoveries and re-discoveries!