Festival of Quilts 2019 – Entry 1, Birds Of A Feather

Douglas Adams famously noted, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” Me? I’m with ol’ Douglas part of the way – I do love a deadline. They help me focus and give me a specific framework to manage my time around, and as such they’re pretty important in my day job. I’ve also learned that I like a deadline in my crafts, too. Without a date or an event to aim for, I am quite capable of meandering off and being distracted by something else that’s caught my fickle attention. All hail, then, the imposition of Crafting Deadlines!

Consequently, last year I pulled on my Big Girl Undies and decided to enter the Festival of Quilts show for the first time. My reasons? 1) Getting something FINISHED (yay deadline!) and 2) getting some impartial feedback. Of my many UFOs, I selected the Paper Crane blocks from a Craftster block swap as my target project. I’d made the extra Cranes and filler blocks, everything was layered up ready to go, and I’d even made a start on the quilting, so really all (ha!) I had to do was quilt each block and assemble them into the finished quilt. Additionally, as a project that has involved other peoples’ effort, I felt it had greater priority than some of my other WIPs.

Having entered it into the Group category, I squared up to the quilting; matchstick quilting and dot-to-dot designs on the Flying Geese blocks and four different “elemental” inspired designs (water, air, fire, earth) for the background around the Cranes, which had already been ditch-quilted. I also had three slightly smaller Cranes made in error by one of my swap partners; she made me three more the right size, but the “wrong” ones were so pretty that I wanted them to be part of the quilt as well, so I used them on the back of three of the Flying Geese blocks and also quilted around them so that their shadows appeared on the front of the quilt.

Once all the main blocks were quilted, I turned my attention to the setting triangles needed to square it up. To enhance the Japanese/Oriental feel of the quilt, I decided to use a bamboo leaf motif, and spent quite a lot of time hand-appliqué-ing an awful lot of green leaves onto cream backgrounds!

How good is that fabric? It was a very fortunate find at Calico Kate in Lampeter, just perfect for my bamboo leaves.

You may notice that I cheated a bit with my setting triangles, which perhaps wasn’t the best decision ever made, but by this point the end of July was bearing down upon me with speed and I was just determined not to hear that “WHOOSH” sound. Each block was quilted with an overall pattern of elongated leaves, then the triangles were cut apart, trimmed to size and arranged around the quilted blocks.

Finally, to assemble the quilt, I used a modified version of the sashing tutorial by Leah Day on Youtube. On the back, I used narrow strips of cream Sevenberry fabric, which has the most fascinating woven texture, and on the front I used a lighter colourway of the leaf fabric, to really bump up the bamboo look. To maximise the effect, I even used Markal Paintsticks to stencil joint lines on each strip.

To make them really stand out against the background, I also fused a narrow strip of wadding down the centre of each strip, then hand-appliquéd each strip into place over the joins in a basket-weave arrangement. The quilt’s binding was more of the textured cream Sevenberry fabric. I should note that my Uncle had his 60th birthday party in the middle of July, and as I was the only person from my corner of the family even remotely able to go, I had to get my quilt into a “hand sewing only” state and then take it to the south of England to help him celebrate. I was not too proud to pull out the quilt and do more hand-stitching on it while chatting to the other guests! Luckily, as generations of stitchers before me have found, hand-sewing can be pretty sociable and everyone was charmingly interested in what I was doing and why. Finally, the last stitch was made and the hanging sleeve attached, then I rollered off as much dog hair and lint as I could find and parcelled it up carefully, ready for hand delivery to the NEC.

After a few days pottering around Birmingham’s museums, I finally got to see my work hanging in the Festival of Quilts!

So, aim 1 achieved – quilt finished and entered! Huzzah! What about aim 2? Well, I have to say that I was nervous when I opened the envelope with the judges’ feedback in it, but in fact what I found therein was very fair and encouraging comments and scores that, based on the very high standard at the FoQ that year, seemed entirely reasonable. I did get dinged a little over those setting triangles being a bit wibbly! However, in truth I’m not sure how much was due to bias effects and how much was down to having folded the quilt for delivery. Now that it’s on my bed, keeping me cosy in all this rough weather, it’s impossible to notice any wobbles. For me, entering a quilt show is very much an opportunity to learn, both during the construction phase and from the feedback afterwards. I can say for sure that it was a really positive experience that I am looking forward to repeating this year!

First Quilty Publication – Cattitude!

Despite my near-total radio silence last year, 2019 was actually a pretty positive year for me, quilting-wise. One of those positive things? I submitted an original design to Make Modern magazine and got accepted! The staff at Make Modern were lovely and made my first publication a really smooth experience, I can’t thank them enough for taking a chance on an “unknown” like me. <3

Splash page from Make Modern Issue 32

The design itself came about when I was looking at well-established blocks of four cat shapes sitting around a square, with their tails entwined. That was all fine and good, I thought, but what if there were MOAR! CATS?! My fondness for an equilateral triangle is well-documented here, so I opened my trusty Inkscape and set to doodling. The resulting design is Cattitude, six(!) cats sitting around a hexagon formed from their entwined tails. It’s foundation-paper pieced and works best with “reads-as-solid” or solid fabrics. My first version was pieced with Liberty prints, which I love but not all of which were strong enough to really “sell” the cat shapes, so during my submission I suggested that I could remake the pattern (another good opportunity for testing!) with different fabrics, which the Make Modern staff agreed was a good idea.

The original “Cattitude”

Luckily, I already had a FQ bundle of the delightfully zingy Quantum by Guicy Giuce for Andover, and we agreed they would be just the thing for the remake. It was a good call – I love the cheery freshness of Cattitude version 2.0!

Somewhat unusually for a cushion pattern, I used a piped edge on both the original and the remake – a bit more effort, but I firmly believe that the finishing details are what really makes a good design. I also suggest the use of left-over scraps to make a fun pieced cushion back:

Cattitude – and many other beautiful modern patterns! – are available now in Issue 32 of Make Modern magazine. <3

A Milestone Finish

I threw up a quick pic of this quilt in my previous post, but it deserves better than that. This is the quilt that started my on the path to becoming a quilter; it’s now finished and gifted, but my quilting journey continues.

It started way back when my sister announced her wedding and I enthusiastically declared that I would make the happy couple a wedding quilt, despite having never made any kind of quilt whatsoever before. Luckily(?) I’m a fast learner and had prior some experience with sewing machines to draw on. I did some research, found a heart pattern I liked that looked achievable and then got thoroughly overexcited buying fabrics in reds, pinks and creams, with no real idea of how big the final article would be or how much fabric I’d actually need. Then it dawned on me that perhaps a bit of practise on a less high-profile project might be a good idea, so I started a bargello instead, using the very cheap sewing machine I bought from a local supermarket.

It quickly became apparent that I didn’t completely have a handle on things when I started to assemble that bargello, so I bundled it – and everything else – up and disappeared off backpacking for most of a year. On my return to Wales, I sought out the lovely quilting group that I’ve been part of ever since and they pointed me in the right directions! With the bargello finished, I plugged away at the Wedding quilt heart blocks and top assembly, found some great fabric for the borders and back, and finally layered everything up.

Then more stalling happened when I realised that I wasn’t quite sure how to approach quilting it! By this time, I’d done other large bed quilts and was slowly building my FMQ skills, but it wasn’t until I was asked to dog-sit for a month by a quilty friend that I finally sunk my teeth into the quilting. She has a Horn cabinet, something I’d never tried before, but I quickly realised that this was just what I needed to help me quilt such a big item. Having armed myself with a surround to fit my Pfaff QE4.2, I set about quilting up a storm of spirals!

The hearts were quilted in the ditch around the outside, and I got really brave and did feathers in the top and bottom borders. To manage the size of the quilt, I mentally divided the area into approximate quarters and quilted each one from the centre out. This meant that, despite the large size of the quilt, I only had to wrangle at most half of the bulk of the quilt through my machine’s throat at any time. Trust me, that was plenty! Stopping the rest of the quilt from slithering off the table became the other big challenge.

Out of curiosity, I weighed the pins after I finished quilting – half a pound of metal! The quilt is heavy by itself, but that’s still a fair bit of extra weight to wrestle with.

I love how the back of a quilt shows off the quilting, this one is no exception! You can see the strip of “spare” hearts I pieced into the back – this is what happens when you start making a quilt without knowing how big it’s going to end up being! You can also see how the swirls “evolved” during the quilting process. Luckily, that’s not as obvious from the front!

I’m both proud and relieved to have finished this quilt, it was a first in many ways and taught me so much. Thankfully, my sister and brother-in-law seem thrilled with it too!

In Under The Wire

June and July have been rubbish for crafting; for some reason, they often are for me. But since I already let June slide by without a single post, I couldn’t let the same happen to July! I’ve managed tosneak in a bit of sewing here and there, and I have a few things I’m excited to work on or be working on, so here they are. 🙂

Honey Pot Bee Blocks

In some ways, you could say that this has been a “distraction” from finishing other projects, but on the other hand it’s actually been one of the few reasons I’ve had recently to slope off to the craft room for a bit of quiet sewing that I’m not sure I would have managed otherwise, so on balance I don’t think this was a bad project to join up with! I’m not yet caught up with all the blocks, but I have made progress with several of them.

One of May’s blocks was the Feather-Leaf block by Julie of Intrepid Thread. Initially I decided to modify my version by piecing my strips slightly wonkily on a foundation of interfacing, and used scraps of the Kona Graphite background to make the leaf edges look jagged:

They’re…. ok? I liked the effect in general, but for me they didn’t sit as well with the other blocks as they might, so last week I whipped up a more “vanilla” version but gave myself permission to use some “virgin” FQs to make them. After all, if I didn’t have scraps in the colours I wanted, it was clearly time to create some!

Much better! These are a bit more zingy and modern in feel. Not sure if I’ll use all four yet, but at least I have the option.

June’s blocks were the Economy Square by Alyce of Blossom Heart Quilts and the Urban Woven block by Mimi of Sew Says Mimi. The Economy Squares are super-easy to snap together and highly addictive! I bobbed together nine in no time at all to make the centre of a top for a Project Linus quilt:

I’m not completely sure about that autumn leaf/”cornflakes” fabric choice, but it’s done now and it certainly won’t show any baby puke! 😉 It was a really nice way to showcase this scrap of Forest Animals fabric that I had knocking around for exactly this kind of project, and I will be making some more for my Honey Pot Bee quilt(s). I’ve already fussy-cut a bunch of centre squares, now I’m auditioning borders:

The Urban Woven block gave me some hesitation, partly because of how I wanted to interpret it, but when I finally transcribed the instructions onto a piece of paper, took it into the craft room and got to cutting and piecing, it went together really nicely:

July’s finished blocks are the Blended Scraps block by Leanne of She Can Quilt and the bonus Mushroom block from Stitching Notes.

After an initial, “Meep I don’t have enough colours!” moment, it turned out that really I totally did have enough colours and this was a very enjoyable block to make, and very effective.

The Mushroom block was proposed as a possible alternative block back in May and I had five printed out and on my list of Do Wants already, so when Molli posted a Magic Mushroom Giveaway chance, I whipped one into shape:

These things are loads of fun to make, the other four should follow along soon. 🙂

The “RSC17” blocks are starting to look pretty good as a group, though it’s going to be one heck of a quilt in size!

My floor isn’t big enough…

I still have a couple of book blocks and a stack of mini log cabins (and maybe the bonus trees from back when the Bee was announced) to make, but I’m pretty pleased with Operation Catch-Up. 🙂

French Knot Folly

Inspired by a swap on Craftster (which thankfully I didn’t join, or I’m sure I would have disappointed my partner), I started a rather epic embroidery project of French knots on a silk ground (lined with cotton for better stitching and sturdiness):

I’m using a sit-on hoop that I might like a lot better if I replace the hinge hardware with something half-decent. As it is, it’s quite hard to tighten it enough to really stop the hoop drooping when stitching at the furthest points. And zillions of French knots are slow going! But it’s a nice project to have next to my chair in the sitting room because it doesn’t require loads of thought – just grab some variety of blue embroidery thread (so far we have cotton floss, silk perle, cotton perle, rayon and metallic threads) and get knotted! The beads have added a glitter and sparkle that I’m really enjoying and I also have more buttons and shells to add to break up the area. The tide’s coming in – slowly!

Hexie Swap #2

A Craftster swap that I did decide to join was the second Hexie Swap, to add to my stash of 3/4″ hexies for the Infinite Hexie Map project (infinite because it might be infinity before I finish it!) This time I sent hexies to six people and have so far received hexies from two partners. These are the groups I sent out:

And these are the ones I’ve received so far:

They chose some great fabrics, although I realised I would need to re-make the hexies in the left-hand photo because they came up a whisker under 3/4″ and at that size a difference is really quite obvious and irreconcilable. Such things are always a risk when swapping with other people, but one I accept. They’re already unpicked and pressed and I have plenty of spare templates! Speaking of, here is the mini-mountain of finished hexies so far:

It’s been a lil while since I counted, but I think there are well over 400 hexies there already! Many have been made by swap partners, but quite a lot are ones I’ve sewn from my scraps. It’d be great to reach 800 or even 1000! My hexie-stitching kit is well stocked so I’ve no excuse:

I’m going to need to print and cut more templates soon, though!

Something Old

Oooo look! Progress on an old (very old!) WIP! I was having something of an off-day where I wanted to do something but didn’t want it to be anything terribly complicated or fussy, so I made myself trim down all the shockingly badly cut batik charm squares I bought to extend this Disappearing Nine-Patch:

Pro tip – 4.75″ is a terrible size of square to use in a D9P quilt! But I’d started so I figured I’d try and finish, so a load of trimming and half-a-dozen new D9P blocks later and I have this:

I like it rather better now it’s bigger. It still needs some borders to frame it and make it a bit more sensible still, but now I feel like there’s hope for it. What it probably needs next is a really narrow dark border that will pull it together and also allow me to “fix” any size weirdness caused by the initial use of 4.75″ squares. I already have several batik samples and bits in a similar colour palette, so a border of some kind should not be too hard to create. Flying Geese, maybe?

ArtLanka Elephants

Staying on the subject of batiks and borders, I had a very lucky find at the local car boot sale at Clarach not long ago. It was 99.999% total tat, but during my brisk cruise around the rather tired offerings, my eye snagged on something that looked a little more promising and a little more fabric-y. Some examination revealed two batik panels in similar colours and both with elephants as the central feature. At £3 for the pair, I genuinely couldn’t leave them there! Other than a cup of tea and a bacon sarnie, they were the only things I bought.

They even still have the artist’s information and serial numbers stapled to them:

Currently I’m thinking that the tall narrow one could become a wall hanging and the more square one might make a great bed or throw quilt. Hmmm, matching decor, too twee? I suppose I’ll find out! If I manage to organise myself a trip to the Festival of Quilts next month, I’ll be taking these two along with me and hunting for suitable batiks to make borders for them both. The loose plan currently is to base border designs on the batik designs present in the panel, if I can figure out how to implement them nicely.

So, that’s about where I’m up to. It actually seems like quite a lot, it just doesn’t feel like I’ve made much recently! Perhaps I will have to sneak in another crafting holiday if/when work permits. 🙂


Catching Up With My Honeys, Part 1

Honey Pot Bee blocks, that is! I confess, last month’s RSC17 “colour” being mixed-colour prints threw me a bit. How was I going to make that work with my Kona Graphite blocks? I dithered over it a lot, but without actually bothering to look at the options I had. Eventually, I hit the craft room and pulled out the relevant basket and Tula Pink’s Chipper stripes leapt out and sat on my face, dragging some snappy coordinating chevrons with them. Sold!

Thus, my version of Audrey’s Stripey Stripe block came to be! This was a really nice easy block to tick off the list. Looks good with all the rest, too. I may add some sashing at a later date, but for now I’ll leave that decision until I’ve made all the blocks I’m going to.

You can see that I’ve also completed a 2017 block by Patty of Elm Street Quilts for this set, with Kona Graphite as the background and four different Shimmer 2 metallic prints for the numbers. I like it – visible but understated, you can see it but it doesn’t drag attention from the actual blocks. When I realised that it finished at the same width as Molli’s #SewRoyal block, well! The two just had to be joined together.

I have a second copy printed out to go with the light-background blocks I’ve made (which I have mentally started to refer to as “Picnic in the Park”), it’s on my to-do list!

Lastly, for now, here is my version of the Starry Sky block designed by Kylie of A Persevering Mom chosen by Kitty of Night Quilter.

As you can see, I had fun with this one! When I downloaded the pattern and saw that one option finished at 2-1/2″ and another finished at 12″, my mind started whirling. Would, I wondered, the smallest block tuck into the centre of the largest? I printed and measured and…. YES! It TOTALLY would! I dug out my most starry scraps and made up four of the small version first, then assembled four of the largest version (with some slight modifications – I really don’t like paper-piecing large rectilinear shapes that I can rotary cut perfectly well and with arguably less waste) and put the whole lot together. For the most part, the blocks joined pretty well, though I did need to unpick and realign the small centre blocks once. Unfortunately I didn’t have nearly enough of the gold stars on cream fabric for all the blocks (I only just about had enough for two), so I substituted in some gold squiggles. I briefly considered mixing up both backgrounds in each block, but then decided that that would be far more distracting than two blocks of each background type. I think I was right.

I’m pretty happy with how it sits with the other Picnic blocks, too. 🙂

I’m currently working on the remaining Honey Pot Bee blocks (plus maybe a couple of unscheduled extras because I like ’em and it’s MY quilt, dammit!), hope to share them soon. 🙂

A Slothful Rainbow Finish

The original sketch Slothy is based on.

April has been a strange month for me. It’s not been unproductive (in terms of crafts or work), but it feels like it was. Weird. However, I can share a finish that has taken me to some new places and that I am very proud of – the Rainbow Sloth is finished!

It took a degree of dithering over a few of the finishing details (how to do the face/eyes/claws, to embroider or not to embroider, hanging solutions, leaf arrangement and attachment), but finally it has all come together!

The face was trickier than I expected – mostly because I wanted to show the classic sloth face-markings but not end up with something that looked like a skull. To make it appear “fuzzier”, I ended up quilting the white areas quite heavily with a thread with a special property – Madeira’s “Halloween” glow-in-the-dark polyester thread, which quilts really nicely. I deliberately allowed the quilting to overlap the darker areas in places to help blend the transition better, and left the eye and nose markings unquilted so that they retained some dimension and definition.

I perhaps slightly lost the plot for some of the face quilting – in my defence, it’s quite a challenge to quilt with a colour that blends in perfectly with the fabric you’re quilting!

Sloth’s eyes and nose are scraps of a synthetic, slightly metallic, leather-look fabric that I have had for literally years – more than long enough for me to forget how annoying it is to sew with. It sticks to the machine’s foot, rucks up and generally refuses to stay put – and of course you can’t pin it where it’ll show because pins leave “scars”. I had to completely re-do both eyes after the first try ended up a total mess.

However, it was also a great choice for the claws, so when I came to do them I pinned a generously sized piece of tissue paper over the area I wanted to place the claws, drew claw shapes based on what I could see through the paper, then carefully slid a piece of the synth-leather underneath so that it was sandwiched between the quilt top and the tissue paper.

This made stitching it down along the lines an infinitely more pleasant and accurate experience – to complete the look, I only had to carefully trim the excess material away from my stitched lines et voilà! Claws!

As you can also see, I did decide to embroider a bit on the leaves – and I think I can say with confidence that I can totally do French knots now! The floss used for all the embroidery is DMC’s speciality glow-in-the-dark thread – because if you’re going to glow, GLOW! Right? Right! This is the same floss as I used to outline Slothy, and a bit is also couched into one of the vines on the branch.

Without rootling out and setting up a tripod, this was the steadiest photo I could manage of the piece after the lights went out, but it shows the general idea. I’m really pleased that the different patterns of French knots on the leaves can actually be distinguished, and the glowing stars on the background fabric can be made out, too.

Because I knew that I wanted at least some of the leaves (especially along the top) to overlap the edge of the quilt, I had to think carefully about the order of attaching the binding, hanging solution and leaves so that they didn’t interfere with each other. To begin with, I trialed different leaf positions until I had a look I liked, then attached them one by one. To keep the nice leafy look of them, the best way to attach them appeared to be to stitch along either side of the midvein of each leaf, far enough to to make sure the leaf was firmly attached and wouldn’t flop, but not so far that the stitching would obstruct other features or get in the way of the binding. This also means that the leaves can be pulled back to “peek” underneath.

If I hadn’t literally only just had this thought, it could have been super-cute to add some little “hidden” creatures underneath the leaves as a kind of quilty “Easter egg” – ah well, perhaps next time! 😉

Once the leaves on the branch were attached, I tackled the hanging solution:

After quite a lot of thought, I made a folded “sleeve” that matched the top edge of the circle, interfaced it for support, drew a couple of angled lines at either end and, with the aid of a lil more interfacing for reinforcement, inserted long buttonholes along each line, but only on one side of the sleeve. The idea is that a wooden dowel can be passed easily through the buttonholes and be held inside the sleeve, thereby supporting the quilt despite the slightly unconventional shape. The sleeve was initially attached to the back of the quilt with a line of stitching 1/8″ from the edge, then held down more firmly when the binding was attached. (Incidentally, this photo also shows a bit I’m really fond of, namely, the “ghost” sloth on his branch, created by the quilting on the back. I was very particular about matching the needle and bobbin threads so the shape is really easy to make out.)

The binding was next – I confess I “cheated” a bit here and used a nice navy-blue satin binding from my favourite haberdashery shop in Cardigan, folded around the edge of the quilt, clipped into place and then secured with this decorative leafy stitch. Part of me is still slightly wondering whether I should have used a green thread for this, but actually I like that it doesn’t shout for attention against the rest of the quilt, while keeping the “rainforest” theme.

Ghost sloth is made of stars and rainbows!

Finally, with the binding safely on, I could attach the last three leaves at the bottom (the stitching holding them in place overlaps the binding) and call the piece finished. 🙂 It has certainly been an interesting journey and the destination, I hope, will not disappoint the recipient! Slothy is on his way to his new home in Canada right now, hopefully he’ll have a swift(!) and comfortable journey. He also allows me to tick off a scrappy milestone myself, given that he is almost entirely made with materials I already had in my stash – the only things I bought specially were the two glow-in-the-dark threads and the binding – and creating that ticker-tape effect sure had me burrowing through the scrap baskets!

Will be linking up with Needle’n’Thread Thursday, Can I Get A Whoop-Whoop and TGIFF – all links in the sidebar.  🙂

Dyeing to Experiment – Round 1

I’ve long been fascinated by the dyeing process – heck, my second-year web project at Uni was on the chemistry of fabric dyes – but it’s been a while since I last tried to dye fabric myself. I did dabble with fabric dye for the Pantone Marsala challenge a couple of years ago, but that was a pretty straightforward dye bath with Dylon – dunk, wait, rinse, wash, sew. More recently, I have been intrigued by ice-dyeing and the Japanese technique of shibori resist dyeing. Was there, I wondered, any good reason why these two techniques couldn’t be combined? I couldn’t see one! For added fun, my fabric for this experiment was printed white-on-white with a feather pattern:

Shibori + ice-dyeing + print fabric?  WTH, let’s DO this!

Originally I bought 6m of this fabric thinking that I would ice-dye it and make a dressing gown from it, although I’ve since decided to use it just for dyeing experiments and look for a different fabric for my dressing gown. To make it easier to handle, I cut it into four ~1m pieces and one ~2m piece, then washed them all with Colsperse to remove any fabric treatments. Unfortunately, I probably didn’t use enough Colsperse – after reading some fairly fruitless and contradictory results from an internet search, I emailed Colourcraft (the makers of Colsperse) to ask them directly how much I ought to use when washing fabric in a washing machine with their product (it is the 21st century and I have better things to do than wash umpty metres of cotton fabric by hand!), and what they told me suggested that I should have used three times as much. This may be relevant later on.

After looking up some shibori tutorials and ideas online (the Townhill Studio blog was especially helpful), I felt like I had a reasonable handle on what I should be aiming for, so I cut one of the 1m pieces into four very generous fat quarters and started marking up the first with a pattern of loose, wavy lines with my water-erase pen – or I tried to! Unfortunately, it’d been a while since I last used that pen and it had dried up with neglect, so I grumblingly decided to use my air-erase marker pen instead – a rather crucial decision, as I will show later. All marking and sewing was done on the reverse of the fabric.

I’m actually not a big fan of this pen in general – it disappears disconcertingly fast (except when it doesn’t), so it was a bit of a race against time between marking up the fabric and managing to get it stitched while the ink was still visible. Add a thumping migraine and I really wasn’t a happy bunny last Saturday!

Townhill Studio suggests using short lengths of white yarn or thick cotton as stoppers at each end of the stitching, but I didn’t have anything like that instantly to hand, so I used some small, cheap beads instead – it worked, kind of. I also started off using Superior Thread’s Bottom Line for the stitching, but this turned out to be a very bad idea because it snapped far too easily when I tried to draw up the threads. I found myself replacing several lines of stitching in this first piece and subsequently used Guettermann polyester thread, which is much stronger, for all stitching (although it is very much not immune to breakage if pulled too hard!). When sewing the lines, I found it went much faster if I finger-pressed along the line before I started to stitch – it made it much easier to follow the line as drawn. As mentioned, this was absolute murder to do with a migraine, but I really liked the effect once it was finished! (And I had downed some painkillers and hidden in a dark room for a bit…)

The next design I tried was some concentric circles:

I marked a staggered grid of dots 5″ apart (errrm, except for one I apparently didn’t measure right!), then used a cotton reel and a roll of masking tape as templates to draw the surrounding circles. The outer circle was sewn with a single pleat like the ripples, the inner circle was sewn with a line of running stitch and then gathered and bound firmly into a “stalk” with the remaining thread tail. I also tucked a bead into each gather and positioned it in the middle of the circle, where it became a knobbly end to the bound-up stalk.

Unfortunately I don’t have any WIP photos of the third piece of shibori I tried – it was late and I was tired! It was a random scatter of six-pointed snowflake shapes drawn in different sizes across the fabric, then each spoke was sewn with a single pleat. The fourth fat quarter was left entirely un-sewn so that I could see how the fabric dyed without additional shibori effects.

Some of the air-erase pen marks were still quite visible, but Google suggested they could also be removed with water, so I immersed all my pieces (including the un-marked, un-sewn one) in cold water overnight to remove any remaining marks. (HA!)

The following morning, I set up my dyeing rig – a set of stackable wire cooling racks and a plastic box that the racks fit into like they were made for it, both purchased from local discount store Charlie’s for £not lots.

Two racks fit neatly in the box and still allow the lid to be put on; three racks peek over the top but could still work if I really wanted them to.

Two fat quarters fit nicely side by side on one rack, so I set up two racks so that the upper fabrics would drip dye onto the lower ones. Plenty of newspaper was put down to save my floor from any potential spillage of dye.

I also armed myself with some plastic spoons for handling the dyes, the gloves that came with my dyeing kit and a dust mask to prevent inhalation of anything nasty:

For the ice, I bought a bag of party ice from the garage across the road, then smacked it repeatedly with a rolling pin to break up the ice cubes a bit:

I used about 3/4 of this bag of ice for this dyeing session.

Now I have to make a confession here. As much as I like the notion of tie-dyeing and ice-dyeing, I don’t overly like the “rainbow vomit” effect that often seems to occur when these techniques are used. Shibori usually manages to be much classier, and I have decided that a key factor in this is the restrained use of colour. Consequently, I decided that I would only use a maximum of two colours on each each of my pieces – turquoise and navy blue for one side and ultra blue and emerald green for the other side:

Six of these came in a starter kit, the navy blue, black and emerald green were bought individually.

Before I could dye my fat quarters, however, I needed to finish preparing the fabric by soaking it in a solution of soda ash so that the dyes would stick to the fibres better, and here is where that air-erase pen came back to bite me:

The moment the soda ash solution hit the fabric, all the purple pen marks returned with a vengeance – useful for a spy sending a secret message maybe, but since I’m not and I wasn’t, I wasn’t best pleased! In fairness, I had been half-wondering whether this was going to be a problem so although it was very annoying, it was not a huge shock. Fortunately, after half an hour in the soda ash solution, the marks seemed to dissipate quite a lot and I figured that any that hadn’t would probably be hidden by the dye anyway, so I moved onto the next stage, arranged my fabrics on the racks, covered them with chunks of ice and finally sprinkled generous quantities of my chosen dyes over each side:

RHS: Navy blue+turquoise, top: shibori ripples, bottom: shibori snowflakes. LHS: Emerald green+ultra blue, top: shibori circles, bottom: plain fabric.

I covered the box with cling film to stop everything drying out and then left the whole lot for 24 hours to melt and do its thing. Well. I did poke the snowflakes a bit at one point to make sure they were being thoroughly dripped on.

The racks did a fantastic job of holding the fabric out of the melt-water dye mix.

24 hours later, all the ice was well and truly melted and I was keen to see what results I’d got. I was really quite surprised to see what had happened to the green+blue side particularly. For a dye that claimed to be blue, it sure contained a lot of red. The green split a little too, although not as obviously. In comparison, the navy+turquoise side was much more as I expected to find it.

I used Procion dyes and clearly they’re not all pure colour – some are blends of different colours and the different dye components separated in a chromatographic fashion thanks to the movement of the water (mobile phase) over the fabric (stationary phase). Interesting, but not exactly the look I was going for! Dangerously close to Rainbow Vomit, in fact. “Ultra” blue is perhaps not all that ultra after all! However, I rinsed everything thoroughly in cold tap water and performed the rather tedious task of unpicking all the shibori stitching I’d spent so long putting in. Next time I will find some white yarn or cotton to use instead of beads – it will be much easier and I won’t feel compelled to salvage scraps of yarn like I did with the beads! A hot wash with more Colsperse and I could finally see the finished effects (the fabrics were still damp in this photos, so they’re a little darker than when dry):

It’s a bit of a mixed bag! The shibori tended to be not as distinct as I hoped, and I have some theories as to why, which I will discuss below. The circles were the most effective, probably because of the chromatographic effect of the separated dye components. I’m not mad on how the colours worked but I think there’s promise there. The plain fabric from below the circles is what I was expecting to see when I applied green and blue dyes. It’s ok, although a stronger, darker green would be nicer. The snowflakes were a fail as far as the shibori stitching was concerned (pretty much none of them came out) but the feathers against the marbled blue background is really attractive so I can’t call it a complete fail. The ripples worked pretty nicely, I was relieved to see. And not a hint of purple pen anywhere, thank goodness!

On a more general note, the colours (especially the navy blue) ended up being much less saturated than I expected and wanted them to be. Stronger colours would help improve the shibori contrast and the appearance of the feathers, so I will aim to improve upon this in future experiments.

Conclusions and Conjecture

This was a really interesting first experiment and I learned a lot. The first thing I learned is that air-erase pens are a poor choice for marking shibori designs! I’m looking into some chalk-based marking tools right now, in fact. I also learned that dyes cannot be relied on to not split when used with the ice-dyeing technique, although this may result in interesting effects when planned for.

The shibori stitches generally did not work as well as hoped, which I put down to several possible reasons: 1) 24 hours may be a long time in politics – it’s certainly a long time in fabric dyeing! Long enough for dye to wick into even the most firmly stitched folds and pleats, perhaps? I suspect so. 2) In my attempt to remove the pen marks, the fabric was really well soaked with water before application of the soda ash solution and before dyeing – I theorise that this excessive wetness may have facilitated the movement of dye into the stitched folds. A shorter soaking time may produce crisper results in future. 3) The stitching wasn’t tight enough – next time I will use yarn stoppers and better thread.

Concerning the comparative lightness of the dye colour on the finished pieces, I suspect that part of the problem was too little Colsperse during the pre-wash phase, which thus failed to remove all the “finish” on the fabric before I dyed it. This finish would prevent the dye from sticking properly to the fibres of the cotton. Certainly there was a fair bit of “loose” dye released from the fabrics during rinsing. I also wonder if the water in the very wet fabric diluted the soda ash solution too much, which would also reduce the effectiveness of the dye. A shorter soak in water and a longer soak in the soda ash solution might help. After the email from Colourcraft (and having seen the results of experiment #1), I re-washed the remaining un-dyed fabric with the right amount of Colsperse, so it should now accept dye better.

Things to Try Next

  • A different marking method that doesn’t react with soda ash!
  • Less (no?) time soaking in plain water, longer soaking in the soda ash solution
  • Less time under the ice (8-12 hours max?)
  • “Staged” dyeing process – start with the lighter dye, then add a second darker dye (possibly with extra ice) after ~8-12 hours?
  • Get a washing bag for protecting delicate items in the washing machine to reduce fabric shredding (the dyed pieces were pretty badly knotted and matted together after their last trip through the washing machine)
  • Try stitching some designs on a sewing machine with a long-ish stitch length – will not work for all techniques but might be a real time-saver for others

This has given me plenty to think about and I am not nearly done with my experiments yet!  I hope I can share more results with you soon. 🙂

Feeling Slothful?

I’ve been a bit distracted by my most recent Craftster craft swap – this time for a mini “art” quilt, however you define that! Having looked back over previous art quilt swaps, it seems pretty open to interpretation. Luckily, my partner provided a number of different “themes” and colour schemes that she likes – some of which are unfamiliar to me, others I can get right behind. “Bright rainbow colours” and “sloths” jumped off the screen at me (and indeed, she has a lot of sloth pictures pinned!), so… Rainbow Sloth it is!

The ticker-tape technique has intrigued me since I saw these two stunning examples by Craftster member sheepBlue, but I hadn’t had a suitable project that was crying out for the ticker-tape treatment until now. To check the validity of the idea, I looked at a huge number of sloth photos on Google, then did a rough sketch of a pose I liked and filled it in with a “ticker tape” effect in coloured pencil. Warning, very sketchy sketch ahead!

Yes, this could work! Although not with a white background, obvs. My partner also mentioned that she’d be interested in a “non-standard” quilt shape, so I decided to try a circle.

After cleaning up and re-scaling my rough doodle in Inkscape, I printed out templates for the circle and the sloth and got cutting. The background fabric was not my first choice, but actually I really like it – the stars glow in the dark! I may throw some other glow-in-the-dark features at the quilt before I’m done, too. Essentially, some part of me still has all the taste and discernment of the child of the ’80s I once was..! The star fabric also got a decent application of starch on the back because it seemed quite flimsy and I didn’t want it stretching or wrinkling as I added things to it. I hoped to applique the sloth by using a freezer-paper template method, but it turned out that my freezer paper is broken, so bondaweb had to come to my rescue instead. Slothy hasn’t been ironed in place yet because I wanted to do his branch first and also because I got terribly distracted by leaves.

Apparently one side is meant to be shiny? My roll did not get that memo!

I have never tried reverse applique before, but this looked like a good moment! After drawing a selection of leaf shapes in different sizes on card and cutting them out, I used these templates to cut out a bright “markings” shape the same size as the template and a green “leaf” shape to which I added a seam allowance of ~1/4″. I then drew a mid-vein and some organic curvy markings on the back of the pink/purple fabric:

Once these markings had been over-sewn with green thread and straight stitch, I carefully clipped away the green fabric to expose the bright-coloured markings on the right side of the leaf, then used my couching foot to couch dark green rayon along the mid-vein and around each leaf marking, to make them really pop:

For good measure, I threw some faux-punto into the mix as well!

Instead of wadding, I used a couple of layers of thick-ish sew-in interfacing that I seem to have masses of, and added it before I couched on the rayon embroidery thread, then carefully clipped away the excess away from the mid-vein and markings:

To give the leaves a finished look, I backed them with a different green fabric, then turned them through, gave them a quick press and topstitched all the way around to close the turn-through gap:

Finally, to make the “faux-punto” really stand out, I set up my FMQ foot and doodled free-motion “veins” between the leaf markings to hold the front and back layers together and enhance the leaf appearance:

Even without the FMQ, the leaves still had a really pleasing feel and dimension to them, with a nicely convincing leaf-like curl. I am really proud of how these came out (although I could have done without my thread breaking umpty times during the free-motion sewing!), and I think they’ll look good on the quilt, too:

(That may not be a final placement!)

As you can see, I’ve already filled in the branch with ticker-tape bits, the next job is to quilt those down (there’s already faux-punto wadding underneath) and figure out how to add texture to the tree bark. Slothy will get some faux-punto too, when I get to fixing him in place – which can’t happen until I decide whether any of the leaves are going to go behind him or not. Lotta new things and experiments in this, so huge amounts of fun for me! 😀

Linking up with Free Motion Mavericks.