When is a Wall Hanging Really Finished?

July 13th, 2015

Mama Lion wall hanging finishing

“The painting isn’t finished until you label the slides,” said Gay Fay Kelly, a painter and my former business partner about 20 years ago. Artists sent slides when they entered their work in juried shows or contacted potential buyers or galleries.

In this digital age, we don’t send slides much anymore, thank goodness! So after the last decorative stitch of a wall hanging is embroidered and the last button sewn in place, when is it REALLY finished?

Mama Lion wall hanging finishing

First, at the back of the work, I attach a 4-inch hanging sleeve. To hang the quilt, you slide a rod through the sleeve, which puts a layer of fabric between the rod and the quilt itself.

At home, I attach wire or monofilament to the ends of the rod and hang the whole assembly from a nail. If you use a wooden rod, you can install screw-eyes to the ends and hang the piece with nails through the eyelets.

Mama Lion wall hanging finishing

I often machine-stitch the title of the work, a copyright date, and a by-line into the quilt’s backing fabric. Mama Lion’s backing fabric was too colorful and busy for successful sewn-in information, so I attached a small hand-written label. Some of my quilting friends make beautiful labels. So far, mine are plain.

 Mama Lion wall hanging finishing

My brother Van turned me on to American Textile Recycling (atrscorp.com), so now I save all fabric scraps and trimmed yarn ends for recycling. Our family has recycled for ages, and so I was glad to find a place to take old linens, clothing, shoes, and fabric scraps.

Now, part of my personal finishing routine is gathering the scraps, yarn bands, and empty plastic thread spools and other containers, and delivering them to their respective recycling sites.

 Mama Lion wall hanging finishing

Finally, it’s picture time. The west side of the house usually has bright shade that is perfect for photography. At the moment, this is my photo studio–can you see the tripod at the left? I’m working on a better way to hang the quilts. A ladder isn’t really the best.

Today’s equivalent of labeling the slides is cropping the digital photos and saving them in various formats and resolutions for print and web-sharing. When that is done, the wall hanging is truly finished.

Mama Lion

July 12th, 2015

Mama Lion knitted, quilted wall hanging

This wooly mammal quilt is in honor of my TextileFusion exhibit’s sponsor for the 2015 Quilt! Knit! Stitch! Show in Portland, Oregon in August. Lion Brand Yarn Company supports textile arts through sponsorships of knitting and crochet events, as well as supporting projects of individual textile artists.

When I began designing knitting and crochet projects professionally in the 1990s, Lion Brand bought several of my designs. Since then, I’ve used Lion Brand yarns in many designs for magazines, for my crochet books, and for personal projects. At the Lion Brand Yarn Studio in New York, I’ve been privileged to sign books and present programs about crochet, writing, and designing.

For Mama Lion, I knitted with Lion Brand Yarn Company’s Amazing, Cotton-Ease, Fishermen’s Wool, Vanna’s Sequins, Wool-Ease, LB Collection Superwash Merino and Angora Merino.

Lion Brand has lent support to my design and artistic career. I hope I have brought some business their way, too. Thank you, Lion Brand.

Antelope Horns: The Final Lap

June 2nd, 2015

The last post about the Antelope Horns wall hanging ended with me sewing the patches to a foundation cloth. Here’s how they looked, compared to the photo, once I finally finished the foundation piecing.

Antelope Horns wall hanging

Next step: quilting with a regular presser foot, because I can control the stitching better.

Antelope Horns wall hanging

Now for my favorite part: embellishing. First, I outlined all the petals with a widely-spaced buttonhole stitch.

Antelope Horns wall hanging

For each flower, I crocheted five water-drop shapes. I laid them on the photo, to see how long the five stems needed to be, and how to attach them to a crocheted white center.

In the photo below, three of the flowers already have violet centers attached, but one shows the provisional white center. Though you can’t see it in the finished wall hanging, the white center adds dimension to the piece by lifting the violet centers a little higher than the horns.

Antelope Horns wall hanging

By laying out the horns on the photo, I could figure out how to finish the end of each horn, by crocheting taller or shorter stitches in the second round of stitching. Some of the horns are seen from the side, so their final row is different from the horns we see straight-on.

Antelope Horns wall hanging

I embroidered the purple stripes along the sides of the horns, which partially appliqued the horns in place. The dark violet center had lots of cream and light green embroidery. I sewed fuzzy five-petal flowerets to the centers before appliqueing them over the provisional white centers.

The button phase of any wall hanging is the best part of embellishing. I poured the buttons from our big jar, gleefully sorted through them, and chose 14 or 15 excellent candidates. I arranged them on the wall hanging and…oh. They didn’t look good. Aw, man!

Every button in the leafy section stood out like a sore thumb. The colors matched well. I even matched light swirls in dark buttons with the appliqued netting in the background. But they stood proud and a little too shiny. They distracted from the flowers.

In the flower half of the wall hanging, I managed to place four buttons. Their height matches the height of the applique, so they blend in better. After sewing on the buttons and attaching the hanging sleeve, the wall hanging was done.

Antelope Horns wall hanging

Hurray! On to the next project.

Throwback Thursday—Eva’s Button Cloth

May 14th, 2015

We played with polymer clay a lot in the late 1990s. It was a great way to pass the time during the frequent rainy, gloomy days in Sheffield.

The compelling thing about polymer clay is that after you model a project, you cure it in the oven at a fairly low temperature to make it permanent. The colors stay true, it stays the same size. You get what you make. I wish every kid (and lots of adults) could experience the joy of it.

During these times, I designed polymer clay projects for magazine articles and for my first book. I made lots of buttons, so four or five-year-old Eva did, too. She used the different tools and cutters, and sometimes repurposed my millefiori off-cuts. I made this cloth to showcase her buttons, and it hung on her wall for years.

Two things stand out in my memory of those days. As we worked one day, Eva asked, “Mama, what if I become better at this than you are?”

And the other was when she finished the large button in this detail picture. It has nine or ten sew-through holes. “Mama, it’s going to take you a long time to sew on this button, because it has so many holes.”

Visions Art Museum Members’ Challenge, Met!

May 7th, 2015

From the Visions Art Museum website:

The mission of Visions Art Museum is to create an international community of quilt and textile artists, collectors and the public through exhibitions, education, and engaging programs that increase the appreciation of quilts, textiles and fiber as fine art…

Visions Art Museum: Contemporary Quilts + Textiles is a program of Quilt San Diego, a non-profit arts organization founded in 1985 to promote contemporary quilt making as fine art.

Sunshine through Fog art quilt

It sounds pretty good, but what drew me in and caused me to part with hard-earned dollars for the membership fee was: Exhibition Opportunities!

Visions Museum offers frequent members’ challenges, themed online exhibits, and juried exhibitions—in other words, exactly what I spend a lot of time looking for.

The challenge pieces are small, giving quilters the chance to show their work without spending weeks on a project. The quilts are all for sale, with half of the sale price going to the museum, and half to the artist. Now that is a deal.

The current members’ challenge was to make a 10″ wide x 14″ tall quilt with the theme “Abstract.” Over 60 quilters answered the call, and our quilts are on display (and for sale) at the museum from April 18 – July 5, 2015.

Mine is called Sunshine through Fog, and see if you can find a teeny-tiny photo of it here.

Sunshine through Fog is pieced from fabric knitted on my Ultimate Sweater Machine. I like to shade colors when I knit, like the black-gray-white shading for this piece. This is what the fabric looked like after blocking. There’s a lot of yellow, because more small quilts with a similar look are on the drawing board.

This photo shows the quilt top pieced and pinned to batting and backing, ready to quilt. But wait…

Recently I discovered that a layer of tulle holds the unruly cut edges of the knitting in place very nicely. After consulting with a long-time associate (my teenage daughter), I added a layer of silvery-white tulle to the top, cutting out the spaces over the yellow areas.

And it came with a bonus! The tulle makes the piece look foggier.

TextileFusion Workshop, San Jose, CA, April 18th

April 2nd, 2015

Try your hand at TextileFusion in a workshop

on April 18th, 2015
11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

at The San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles
520 South First Street
San Jose, CA 95113

This sample quilt is similar to what we will be making. It started as a thrift store sweater.

Register and read more about it here: https://secure.acceptiva.com/?cst=4c411e

After a colorful slide presentation about how TextileFusion techniques came to be, each of us will make a small knitted, embellished quilt from an old sweater. In case you’re wondering—yes!—we will cut it up! You will need scissors, pins, hand-sewing needles and a non-lace sweater (preferably wool or cotton) that you don’t mind cutting up. Skills required: simple hand sewing, sewing buttons.

I hope you will join me and my lovely assistant (daughter) for this quick mixed-media exercise.

San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles

Mosaic Memories Monday: Moments with Barbara Walker

March 23rd, 2015

It was at the Interweave Knitting Lab, October 2012, in Manchester, New Hampshire. I was teaching a class about how to knit mosaic patterns and design your own. The workshop participants were enthusiastic and they were close to completing our first mosaic sample: a dotty heart pattern.

Barbara Walker

All at once, the door opened, and in walked a small white-haired lady wearing a sparkling mosaic sweater. We saw, as if in a dream, Barbara Walker, the first champion of the mosaic knitting technique, the developer of a very clever mosaic knit charting method, the designer of many, many mosaic patterns. All this and much, much more.

Barbara Walker's bag

Barbara examined the mosaic samplers and graciously allowed us to photograph her and her lovely sweater and bag. She never uses a sweater pattern. She just decides which stitch motifs to use, and then knits from the top down.

She left us star-struck, and we continued our workshop with renewed vigor.

Barbara was the keynote speaker for the conference. I wouldn’t have missed her speech for anything. She produced several treasuries of knitting stitch patterns, which to my mind are the foundation for all modern knit stitch treasuries and the inspiration for many knitting patterns we’ve seen in books and magazines for the last 30 years.

A 1952 graduate of University of Pennsylvania, Barbara wrote for the Washington Star newspaper for years. The paper closed two or three years after she left. At some point, she took two classes in medieval history, where, oddly, no mention was made of the Inquisition. This got her started researching the history of religion. Among other things, this study resulted in the publication of her thoroughly engrossing encyclopedias of feminine symbols and mythology.

Here are a few lines from Barbara Walker’s speech, which made me admire her even more:

Regarding the relative creativity of the people in the room:

“You have probably knitted as much as I have, but you didn’t keep count. You are as creative as I am, but you just haven’t put it in books.”

Regarding how she was able to produce so much:

The television broke. About six years later, she called a repairman. “I got a lot done in that time,” she said.

“I was always solitary. That’s how I got so much done.”

And finally,

“I want to surprise myself. I don’t want to be bored.”

Thank you, Barbara Walker. Your work has made a large and lasting impression on my life.

Suzann and Barbara Walker

Crochet, Science, and Daughters

March 6th, 2015

crocheted kitty sweater

My college sophomore daughter, Eva, was home for the holidays. We don’t have a TV, we live in the country, her friends were scattered across the state, and there’s only so much Twitter and such a person can do before petrification sets in.

“Mom, I want to crochet,” she said.

Was it my imagination, or did a choir of angels sing “Hallelujah” at that moment? Could be…her words were definitely music to my ears.

She chose some lovely Berroco Remix yarn (blended from 100% recycled fibers). I showed her the basic idea of a raglan sweater from the top down. She got to work.

With only one minor redesign and a minimum of ripping out and recrocheting, Eva completed a sweater for her stuffed kitty.

But one sweater was not enough. Eva crocheted a cell model. You can tell this is an animal cell model, because it has a cell membrane (blue). The nucleus has a pale green membrane and the red squiggles inside are genetic material. The green ovals are vacuoles and the red oval is a mitochondrion, powerhouse of the cell. The Golgi apparatus is yellow and the endoplasmic reticulum is squiggly and blue. Note that it has no bumps on it, therefore it is smooth endoplasmic reticulum.

crocheted kitty sweater

This episode reminded me of a long, interesting, and sometimes saddening article I read in the New York Times a while ago (“Why are There Still so Few Women in Science?”) Author Eileen Pollack, a novelist and creative writing professor at University of Michigan, spoke to astrophysicist Meg Urry of Yale University, who had this to say about crafting:

“I’m soldering things, and I’m thinking, Hey, I’m really good at this. I know the principles. It’s like an art. It took me years to realize I’m actually good with my hands. I have all these small-motor skills from all the years I spent sewing, knitting and designing things. We should tell young women, ‘That stuff actually prepares you for working in a lab.’”

Yes, let’s tell this to our crafting daughters and sons! It’s another of the many benefits of “sewing, knitting, and designing things.”

I laughed ruefully after reading Professor Urry’s assertion that “Women need more positive reinforcement, and men need more negative reinforcement. Men wildly overestimate their learning abilities, their earning abilities. Women say, ‘Oh, I’m not good, I won’t earn much, whatever you want to give me is O.K.’”

Why ruefully? Because when I was a biology major, oh so long ago, I was exactly the woman she was talking about.

The crocheted cell model opened doors for Eva. She emailed a photo of it to her last semester’s biology professor. A week later the professor invited her and a few other former students to lead review sessions for the same biology class this semester. No pay, but the professor promised glowing letters of recommendation. “I think it also helped that my friend and I went to her class last Halloween, dressed up as NAD and NADH molecules,” said Eva.

Pieces of Antelope Horns

March 3rd, 2015

The day I learned about foundation piecing was a great day in my wall hanging career. The book that taught me was Precision Pieced Quilts Using the Foundation Method by Jane Hall & Dixie Haywood. The technique solved some problems I encountered while trying to piece and quilt knitted fabric.

Antelope Horns

You place your patches onto a piece of fabric called the foundation fabric, which you won’t be able to see in the finished quilt. I try to use fabrics that have been around the house for a while, clearly attracting no one’s interest. In the case of this Halloween themed fabric, “a while” means at least eight years.

To help me orient the patches on the fabric, I ironed creases in the fabric at halfway points. The pattern poster was also folded at the same points. As I placed the first flower and leaf patches on the fabric, I lined up the folds.

The edges of the patches are snugged right up next to each other—no overlap.

Antelope Horns

This is a fun job for a jigsaw puzzle lover (me). Thank goodness for the second poster, though. Like a puzzle box lid, I had to consult the poster several times to figure out how a certain petal fit, even though the they were numbered.

Antelope Horns

The poster pattern plan worked well!

Antelope Horns

I took the paper patterns off, and pinned the knitted patches onto the foundation fabric.

Antelope Horns

I zig-zag stitched the patches together, with a zig in one patch and the zag in the patch next to it. At the same time, the zig-zag stitches sewed the pieces to the foundation.

A Flower Called Antelope Horns

March 1st, 2015

Antelope Horns poster

“They look like aliens,” said my husband, when he saw this photo, blown up to poster size. It’s a very close-up view of Antelope Horns milkweed, one of the coolest flowers I love.

We saw this particular plant on my parents’ place and I believe my daughter snapped this picture with my phone. The five-petal flowerets are about half an inch across in real life, which makes their fantastic detail hard to see very well. I cropped the photo and had it printed as two 2 x 3-foot posters.

Antelope Horns

One poster was my pattern for cutting out the leaves and petals. I numbered each flower, leaf, and background piece on the poster and on a black-and-white printout before cutting.

I cut each flower into individual petals. I left the white and purple bits in place, planning to applique those onto the surface later. At this point, the important thing was to make a solidly-covered quilt top.

Before all this numbering and cutting business, I knitted the fabric for the Antelope Horns wall hanging on the Ultimate Sweater Machine. The knitting took about three hours, even with all the color and yarn changes (they are easy on the USM). I steam blocked the fabric and then stabilized it with fusible interfacing. The interfacing stops the stitches from unraveling when I cut the fabric. Also machine-sewing the patches is a lot easier when they are stabilized.

After all the individual petals were cut out, I pinned them to my knitted, stabilized fabric. I tried to line up the petals from one flower, so that they would mostly have the same striations in the knitted fabric. Time to cut out again.

Okay, here are the pieces of the poster with knitting pinned underneath. The next step is to piece them all back together.