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

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!

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