Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Progress On Some Fronts

Sassy Red Hibiscus Ignoring The Cold Weather

I really need to find better titles for my blog... maybe an automated title generator? Then I'd have titles like, "Gentry wallows from within goosenecks." You wouldn't know what the heck the post was going to be about, but it would be a real eye-catcher anyway, right?

This week has so far seen me make a few costly mistakes that I should have known better than to make, but that I know is part of the learning process.

When I started teaching myself to paint, many years ago, I learned about color theory mostly by making a lot of mistakes. One of my most consistent mistakes- the one I stubbornly perpetrated again and again- was trying to force some colors to work and play well together despite knowing full well that they would refuse. I would just get it into my head that I'd be able to mix purple and yellow, for instance, and get something really wonderful that wasn't mud-colored. I knew it was just a matter of time before the purple and yellow submitted to my will, so I kept mixing.  And I kept learning. And guess what? Purple and yellow can and do work and play well together- if you embrace their particular individual quirks. Oh, yeah, and if you learn how to mix them so that they form creamy, earthy love.

This past weekend and right up through yesterday, I've been making similarly stubborn mistakes and someone should take away my "Kiss Me, I'm A Quilter!" button because these mistakes aren't resulting just in some muddy brown painted papers that are easy to throw away or paint over, they are large-scale mistakes that are costing me real money.

Mom needs fifteen yards of chartreuse fabric, broken down into three values: three yards of light, six yards of medium and six yards of dark. Late last week, I cut three sections off a bolt of white muslin she and I had bought for this purpose, prepared the dye baths, batch-set the fabrics over night and stubbornly insisted to myself that the Bright Green I'd used would look exactly like the Chartreuse I'd promised her.

Guess what didn't happen?

I didn't get chartreuse, is what didn't happen. Who could have predicted that, raise your hands? So... fifteen yards in a lovely bright green colorway. I'll use it as my front lawn until the spring comes, I guess, so the yard will look green and growing even in the dead of February.

So, back to the cutting mat, hack off fifteen more yards, use honest-to-goodness Chartreuse dye this time (I'm stubborn- not stupid), and batch-set over night. I didn't have enough Chartreuse to do the whole job, I'll have to wait for more dye to arrive on Wednesday for that, but I was able to do three yards of light value and six yards of medium value.

Wait, don't tell me. You can't see a value difference in these three pieces either, can you? It's not the photograph, that's what they really look like. Despite using half as much dye per yard for the "light" value as for the medium, I got the exact same value. It has to do with the amount of fabric per liquid per dye powder and the actual application of math. Now, I'm a bright lady, but yeah, a picture says a thousand words- mainly that my math sucks.

I will buy some Anti-Chlor, dunk the lightest value in a bucket of bleach water until it reaches the proper value, and wash the whole mess out. Next time I agree to dye fifteen yards of fabric all at the same time, either give me the proper math well in advance, or smack me around a little until I wise up.

Other things got done this week, though, fun things.

The above little piece finally found a binding. Never mind that I had to trim off more of it than I had planned because, in an effort to try new things, I fused the binding on rather than using a traditional binding, and when I started stitching it, the machine ate one whole corner; the only way to repair it was to shave a quarter-inch off that entire side.  Learning curves are harsh. Completing something feels gratifying, though.

On the books for future weeks, besides my commission installation, will be these fabrics in these combinations to create small art quilts upon which I can practice my free-motion quilting.


All of these fabrics started as plain white muslin that I cut straight off the bolt. It feels really good to know that my work is always 100% my own, from the stamped images I carve myself, to the hours spent dyeing, screen-printing and DSP fabrics.

Some of these bits were created yesterday using pre-dyed fabrics and, of all things, alcohol inks. This is not going to be a favorite technique of mine, however, because while the results are visually interesting, some of the ink colors seem to be totally impossible to set despite multiple ironings, while other colors set quite nicely. And of course, the hand of the fabric changes and gets a sort of crispy feeling to it, like it could crack if you crumpled it in your hands.

Still, experimentation is life.

Finally, this piece, which ended up being a joy to stitch, has most of its binding completed.


The really neat thing is that I got my Fall issue of the SAQA newsletter last night (I only recently signed up and they kindly sent me the most recent one) and read a wonderful article about NOT adding bindings to art quilts. I guess I've always feared that without a "proper" binding, my quilts might never be taken seriously by jurors and quilt show judges. I want so much to eventually create textiles that are not only visually and texturally exciting, but are of the utmost quality I can produce; I assumed that mastering traditional bindings was a necessary skill set I will need to move me towards that goal, but perhaps not (though I'd still like to learn how to make one efficently, in time).

However, after reading that article I feel freed from the task of binding every textile art piece I create, a job I never enjoyed doing and chafed at, creatively. I can perfect a pillowcase turn, a method I far prefer, and still feel that my quilts will one day reach the highest standards of excellence.

Onward and upward! Happy creating!
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