Thursday, November 29, 2012

Back to Hand Stitching

As I mentioned last post, I am planning to do a piece for Quilt Canada's Trend Tex Challenge.  I have been sketching 'Sunshine and Vines' in my sketch book trying to come up with something that will utilize the materials best.   I spent some time on my computer trying to find some photos I took of my friend's garden a couple of years ago but they seem to have disappeared (I have learned over time that setting the correct date on my camera is VERY important if I want to be able to find photos that are not in their own albums).  I also changed computers last year and things got a little scrambled in the changeover.    The long and the short of it is that I didn't find the photos.    The good news is that I came across several other interesting vine photos to choose from.  One was from a garden I visited in Quebec last summer.  It was a metal swing structure completely covered in vines.  I also have some interesting vines on a fence overlooking the Ottawa River.   The third sketch came from my own backyard - grapevines growing on the side of my house with the sun  shining down on them.   I did a small piece inspired by this last photo and using lots of hand embroidered flowers, many stitches, and my own fabrics.  Here is the result.


I used a yellow fabric with small leaf/flower shapes on it for the wall and stitched the lighter, sun drenched grape leaves with shiny threads.  The flowers along the patio are embroidered and so are the grapes and curly tendrils.   The tree, fence, grass (mine has more weeds), cedars are heavily hand stitched with tiny stitches.  The whole piece is only 4 x 6".   It was nice to get back to some hand stitching.

Here are some of the other sketches I may try.

 I think the second one may not work - all those tiny leaves and not a very interesting design.  It would need some work.  I am leaning toward the fence/river piece.  But I may do something completely different - maybe an abstract?  That would be different for me for sure.

I am actually working on a piece with a somewhat abstract theme right now.  It came to me while performing a song (see previous post) and I may call it "Five AM and Counting".   Who hasn't lain awake at 5 am worrying about everything from what to make for dinner to world peace?   I have sketches and a pattern and will probably improvise as I go along.   It can be a disturbing theme and I find myself juxtaposing the serious with the absurd - we'll see how it comes out.

I also found a couple more wool blazers at the thrift shop - in a soft yellow and pale green - which I plan to dissassemble for my next rug hooking project.  I am still looking for some blues.   There was a lovely sky blue blazer there but I couldn't bring myself to take it away from someone who would want to purchase it to wear.  It was just too elegant.  

Still practicing free motion,  here's a little piece I stitched up yesterday (how I love saying that seeing as it takes me weeks/months to do a hand stitched piece).

Friday, November 23, 2012

Blogathon visits Ontario

All week Sew Sisters Quilt Shop  has been holding a Blogathon.  Hosts from each province link up to bloggers in their home province.   All week I have been visiting blogs and 'meeting' new Canadian quilters.   On Saturday it is Ontario's turn.   You can click on the red and blue button on the right to visit with bloggers from sea to sea to sea.

 I live in the Ottawa region where we have lots of wonderful greenbelt, bike trails as well as the Gatineau Park to hike, cross country ski, snow shoe and bike (and where I find lots of inspiration for art quilts).  I must admit that my heart (and inspiration) lies also in the Atlantic Provinces especially Cape Breton and Newfoundland.

 For new visitors, in the last month I have been taking a break from sixteen years of hand stitching and teaching myself to do free motion and machine thread work.  This week I completed a couple of pieces (with some frustrations and foul language).

Tenerife II
In this one I used a photo of Tenerife Mountain as viewed from Cabot's Landing Beach in Cape Breton.  I had already completed a painted hand stitched version of this but in this one I layered fabric then machine stitched it all.   In the foreground I added some hand stitched grasses for perspective.  I added a bit of paint to the sky to reflect the pinks in the variegated stitches on the water.

Photo Inspiration

Original Painted Hand Stitched Piece
I think it can be helpful to explore themes and inspirations in more than one way.  I often used to  paint a piece on canvas then develop it in fabric. It gave me a familiarity with the theme.  Sometimes after finishing a piece I think that I should have just used a part of the picture or used different techniques or a different size.  I want to try more reworking of these ideas.  I also like to work in a series - trees for example.    

Not that I don't have enough new ideas to work on.   I can't seem to keep up with them.   So I sketch them out and work my way through.   This year I seem to be exploring water.   I was in the middle of a performance with my women's choir earlier this week and an idea came to me right in the middle of a song about dreams and rivers and searching.  I found my mind wandering and designing in my head.   Talk about multi tasking!!   Good thing our part was somewhat repetitious!   So I hurried home afterwards and drew out some be continued.

Here is another little piece (3 x 5") that I completed by machine stitching this week.
Machine Stitched Mini

And finally for hand stitching fans, I have not abandoned my first love.  Here I have fussy cut flowers, appliqued them to a background fabric and hand stitched and quilted the piece.  It is not large - about 6 x 9".

Hand stitched floral

Close up of stitching

Trend tex challenge fabric
 And a last piece of news that might interest some of you.  A few weeks ago I received my package of fabrics for Quilt Canada 2013's Trend Tex Challenge.  This year's theme is Sunshine and Vines.  I have laid the fabric out on my dining room table to observe and think about and have sketched a few possibilities.  I even worked one theme in a small piece but am not thrilled with it.   I'd better get at it.   For more information  go to Quilt Canada 2013 and look for the Trend Tex Challenge.  There may still be time to order a kit.

Thanks for visiting and feel free to leave comments or say hello (I love connecting with other fibre artists).    

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

More Free Motion Stitching

View near Mud Lake - Machine stitched

We had a great time at our quilting retreat and I spent almost the whole weekend working on this piece.  I was determined to master free motion work so I just stitched away all weekend (aside from eating the wonderful meals we took turns preparing, drinking wine and talking....).   I will post pictures of the retreat next week.   I was pretty satisfied with the results of my machine labours and have continued since my return home to work on more pieces which I will post later this week.   I learned about changing needles often, I tried to get my head around all the different needles for different processes, still struggling to learn about threads and tensions etc etc.   I must say that it is great to be able to complete a piece in a weekend.  I can't do that with hand stitching.   However,  I still feel a lot more relaxed after an evening of hand stitching.  I think there's a lot more swearing that goes on (and talking to inanimate objects ie the machine!) when I am machine stitching.   But I am trying to remain calm even when the stitches bunch up behind the work and the machine begins its ominous clunking noises.    I stop, check my threading, check the tension, look to see if there is anything caught in the machine - then, if all else fails, I stop and have a cup of tea.:)

Inspiration near Mud Lake
Here is the photo that inspired this piece.    We have a lovely area down near the Ottawa River with a small pond called Mud Lake which is a haven for many kinds of birds and waterfowl.  This was taken on the river side.

On my way home from the quilt retreat, I stopped in at Loblaws to pick up a few things.  When I came out, this is the sight that greeted me.  Luckily I had my camera with me and quickly took some shots.  What a spectacular sunset!   Sadly a couple of days later it seems I missed a magnificent aurora borealis.   Ah well another time....

Urban Sunsets

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Practicing Free Motion

I was determined that, before the year was over I would tackle my sewing machine and practice free motion/threadwork.   Never mind that I haven't even learned the basics of machine sewing,  what I really needed to learn was how to embroider on my landscapes with my sewing machine.   I have been having some pain in my fingers, wrist and shoulder from all that hand stitching and need to give it a break, although I am reluctant to lose the 'label' as exclusively a hand stitcher.  After doodling on pieces of felt for a couple of hours, I decided to jump right in.   I figured it would be easiest to try stitching on some ready made flowers before trying to create my own so I cut and fused flowers onto a background (I actually used craft bond as if I was making them into art cards).  And here are the results of number 1 and number 2 sample.  The stitching is pretty basic but I had fun learning to follow the veins in the petals and leaves, trying to control my speed and the direction of my stitching. I had no trouble with stitches, thread or needles. I even tried a zigzag stitch.

 Since I do a lot of grasses, trees, bushes and water, I next drew a pattern with mountains, grasses and a stream running through it inspired by some of my photos, and went to work.   I used solvy stabilizer and a hoop for this one.  I like using the hoop to move the fabric even though it can be cumbersome and I needed to re set the piece inside the hoop several times.   I really stitched the heck out of it and had fun trying different threads (like the multicoloured one that I used for the section below the trees.   I finished by hand stitching individual grasses and bushes.  I had actually found sketches of various grasses in a photography book about the prairies and tried to emulate some of them.  I also looked at various embroidery stitches in my handy stitch book but ended up inventing my own simple stitches.   So here is the finished product.

 I have prepared a few more fused pieces because this weekend I am going to a quilting retreat and will bravely try to machine stitch in the presence of 11 women who are experienced machine quilters.  Yikes!   The first piece is from a theme that I used before in a hand stitched piece called The Tenerife Challenge.   I'm using it again because the photo has these lovely long grasses in the foreground, bushes, water, trees and mountains.  It's all ready to start stitching.

 Then I prepared a piece inspired from a photo I took at Mud Lake with lots of trees, rocks, water, bushes and cattails.  I sketched in some of the areas that I want to stitch with white pencil.

I have a couple of other pieces ready to work on (one of underwater rocks and another swamp piece) as well as my hand stitched colour challenge piece so I'll have lots to do this weekend (besides eat and drink wine).

Two observations - When I was reading about machine stitching, free motion and thread painting I got pretty scared about thread!   Top thread, bobbin thread, fine thread, heavy thread, silk, metallics, cotton, poly, will I ever learn all this?    So I said to myself, this is an experiment and I tried every thread that I could get my hands on, even metallics and fine silk.....and most of them worked!!  Once I learned how to re set the tension and how to read my errors ie too tight or too loose, I was off to the races - literally.    I learned why you need a finer needle with finer threads (to avoid big holes in fabric) and why you need to loosen tension (bobbin threads showing through on my pale beige fabric).   So my advice to anyone starting out is to not be too afraid of it.   Early on I had a few thread pile ups but soon learned how to control that.   It was fun - but pretty intense.

The second thing -  On several of these pieces I used Elaine Quehl's multi coloured hand dyed fabric and boy, does it make the scene pop, especially if you don't stick to blue for sky, green for grass, etc etc.  I love colour and find that hand dyes and batiks can give a piece extra pizzazz.  I am inspired by other art quilters' use of colour.  One example is Gloria Loughman's luscious pieces (see her book 'Luminous Landscapes').

I'd better get packing.  Maybe I'll have something to post on my return.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Fibre Art Show at the Stittsville Library

The following is a press release from Out of the Box.   Yesterday we set up our "From a Book" fibre art show at the Stittsville Public Library and it looks great!  Please check out my Exhibitions page for a flyer with more photos of the work displayed.

"From a Book" Art Show

The Out-of the-Box fibre artists invite you to visit the Stittsville Branch of the Ottawa Public Library (OPL) in the month of November to view their "From a Book" show.  Inspired by stories, characters, titles, words, places and shapes found in books, the fibre artists have used a variety of techniques and materials to produce a delightful and diverse art show.  Books that inspired this show include classic literature, mysteries, science fiction, natural science, children's books, and even Roget's Thesaurus. Quilting, beading, felting, embroidery, mixed media, sculpture, and surface design are among the techniques showcased. 

Out-of-the-Box is a group of fibre artists who are passionate about creating innovative, thought-provoking fibre art, and promoting that art in the community.  This is their second show at the Stittsville Branch.  For more information, visit their website ( or that of the Ottawa Public Library (  The Stittsville Branch is located at 1637 Stittsville Main Street.