Monday, March 29, 2010

Wanna win this? Here’s how!

Quilting Arts and Bernina are giving away a brand new Bernina Aurora 440QE sewing machine to the winner of their “Stitch This!” competition. Wow!

To participate, you have to make a 14 x 11" art quilt interpreting this lovely swan photo:

Members of the Quilting Arts community will have the chance to vote on the competition entries and decide the winner. You can read all the details on the Quilting Arts website. But you better get hopping! You stand the best chance of accumulating the most votes if you have images of your art quilt to Quilting Arts by May 2, 2010. The winner will be chosen on June 28.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fun at the East Cobb Quilters’ Guild

I just returned from teaching two workshops and speaking to the East Cobb Quilters’ Guild in Marietta, Georgia, near Atlanta. What a wonderful, warm group of quilters! I was invited to teach there after Danielle Morgan wrote me; at the time, I think she was the guild president, and discovered my blog and website. That’s Danielle above with the wonderful dragonfly she created in the thread sketching class I taught on Saturday.

I can’t tell you how wonderfully they treated me; taking me for great meals, helping me schlep all my stuff in and out of several different workshop and meeting sites, helping me set up, helping me sell my patterns, book and DVD, but most of all, helping me out when I got sick. It is hard to be away from home and attempting to be professional when you are sick. Especially sick the way I was sick (I will spare you the details, but you can take my word for it that it wasn't pretty.) Luckily, it was only a 12-hour bug and I was back on my feet in time to speak to the guild on Friday morning.

What a great program chair this guild has in Pam Cornutt. She is a ball of energy, and was unfailingly helpful, organized and cheerful. 

After the guild meeting, Linda Christensen came up to me, excited to see my rust-dyed piece. She had been collecting rusty stuff, and after talking with me and finding me to be a fellow admirer of rust, went out to her car and brought back a big box filled with the most marvelous rusty bits. Look at this!

These are scraps from a metal stamping company. Wow, wow, wow! Thank you, Linda! I wish I had time to work with these right now, but they might have to wait until I get some big projects finished up. (After I took this photo, by daughter came in and said, “Those are interesting rusty things on the kitchen counter, Mama… you have had a tetanus shot lately, haven’t you?”)

Asking students to complete evaluation forms after I teach a class is something I started to do recently. I’m so glad I decided to do it, because I’m getting wonderful feedback from my students. Most of them gave my two classes and my teaching good marks, and that was reassuring. But the constructive criticism and suggestions were invaluable. It made me wonder why more teachers – and more guilds, for that matter – don’t make teacher/class evaluations a regular thing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Not quite right

Here’s a new piece I just finished. I needed a new sample to take to the class I’m teaching later this week for the East Cobb Quilters’ Guild in Marietta, Georgia (near Atlanta). So I was hurrying, hurrying, hurrying along, but I had a vague feeling that something was not quite right. Nothing I could quite put my finger on. But I was in a rush, so I ignored that nagging sensation and moved along. The minute I finished quilting. I knew what it was. Do you? Yep. The dragonfly’s wings are on upside down. Aaaaaaaaaaaaargh!

Beyond the wing issue (I will never look at this piece without knowing it is WRONG!), there are some things I love about this piece, and somethings I'd do differently. I love the beautiful colors and texture in the wings. I love that hand-dyed background. I love the circle raindrops, where I did some thread sketching on the surface, and then some quilting to add dimension. But if I had to do it again, I'd do more dragonflies, probably three (the one looks kind of plunked there), or at least not center the one dragonfly so much on the piece. I could have added more movement to the piece if I had quilted it differently.

Regardless of the design flaws, and the wing malfunction, it is still a good sample to demonstrate the techniques I’ll be teaching. I’m going to teach my “Start With a Photo” workshop where we make my Round Red Barn design this Thursday, meet with some of the quilters that night, then do my presentation at the guild meeting on Friday, and teach a thread-sketching class (the dragonfly) on Saturday. I just love meeting and teaching other quilters! It is going to be fun.

What do you think I should name this piece?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Trials and tribulations

In the past month, I have been working on getting better shots of my quilts, and learning how to take better how-to shots that I can use on my blog. There have been days when I wanted to rip my hair out. I am an artistic photographer, not a technical one. Today, the members of Fiber Art Options came over for our monthly meeting, and to photograph all of our work from the "Orchids: Sensuality Stitched" exhibition that just closed at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. Our goal is to create a CD of our work to send out to potential future venues.

We worked inside today, with professional flash units and light stands, and pinned each piece to my design wall. We rigged nylon fabric over the flash units to soften and diffuse the light. We bounced the lights at a 45 degree angle off foamcore positioned at the sides of the pieces. We tried putting one flash to the side, to skim light over the surface (the result was hot spots, or bright areas, near that flash, even at lower settings). We experimented with setting the flashes at different power settings. I shot in manual mode, and I played some with my f-stop and my shutter speed and my ISO. You can see the result here:

The color is fairly close. The light is even, and I think the exposure is okay. But it is totally flat. When you zoom in, the detail is okay, and you can see the stitching, but it looks like a painting and not a quilt.

If you look at the photo at the top of this post, you can see a photo I took a few months ago of the same piece. The texture is great. I took it outside. I put it on the ground, got up on a ladder, and shot straight down. It was a sunny day, and either early morning (9-ish) or later in the afternoon (4-ish) to avoid the harsher lighting of mid-day. I shot in auto mode.

If you read my post earlier this month, you can see the little foam core “stage” I set up to shoot my smaller pieces and how-to shots. This quilt is too big to fit on that stage, so it had to be shot in a different way.

So… here’s my big question: Why is the first shot so much better? What am I doing wrong when I shoot inside? If you know and can help me, please leave a comment! I’d really like to have some of my hair at the end of the month. Thanks.

NOTE: Since writing this, I have had several e-mails from people suggesting Holly Knott's excellent information called “Shoot that Quilt!” on her website. I read it long ago, and built her stands and purchased the special bulbs. I’m still not getting the texture. I just e-mailed  her, and when I hear back, I will certainly share what I learn by posting here. The lights I’m using now are professional level flash units, so that changes all the variables. 

LATER NOTE: Here is Holly's response to my plea for help: 
"Hi Susan! I hear your frustration! Just checked out your blog post and you are certainly doing all the right things. It’s all in the lighting. You have to light one side brighter than the other, to create little shadows from the raised areas in-between your quilting lines. The only thing I can think of is that even though you’ve tried different lighting scenarios, that perhaps you’ve evenly lit *both* sides of the piece. You’ll want one side to be lit a little brighter than the other. I’m guessing that your quickie shot taken outdoors that shows the quilting fabulously worked because the sun was hitting it at an angle. Perhaps try moving one light stand close to the quilt and aiming it at a 25-degree angle across it, and move the other light stand to the other side of the quilt but farther away, 45-degree angle as you normally would, just to make sure that side of the quilt isn’t in total darkness. Possibly even try a brighter bulb in the light closest to the quilt. See this very quick graphic in case this doesn’t make sense:

"Also, you mentioned using flash units. Are they literally flashes, that only go off when the shutter clicks? I never use those myself (unless I’m taking a quickie auto shot) because I can’t see the light before it goes off (compared to the fixed lights on the stands that you can move around and judge brightness with because they’re always on). "

Thanks, Holly! I guess it is back to the drawing board! Stay tuned, everyone!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Very lucky

I have a knack for finding four-leaf clovers. I’m not sure exactly why, but I suspect that my figure-ground perception is especially acute. I found one on my daily walk Monday, and gave it to my friend Nancy G. Cook, for her 70th birthday. I hope it brings her another decade of good luck. Today I found another, the one pictured above!

According to information I found online, scientists estimate that there are about 10,000 three-leaf clovers for every four-leaf clover. The four-leaf clover has long been a symbol of good luck, its petals said to represent faith, hope, love and luck.

When I was a child, my mother used to sing me a song about four-leaf clovers that had a lovely melody. I found it online, attributed to Ella Higginson, born 1861, (published in An American Anthology, 1787-1900):

I know a place where the sun is like gold,
and the cherries bloom forth in the snow
and down underneath is the lovliest nook,
where the four-leaf clovers grow.

One leaf is for faith, and one is for hope.
And one is for love, you know,
And God put another one in for luck,
if you search you will find where they grow.

But you must have faith, you must have hope
You must love and be strong, and so…
If you work and you wait, you will find the place
where the four-leaf clovers grow.

Today I celebrate my Celtic ancestry; I have a good amount of Scot-Irish in my bloodlines. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone. Three cheers for the lovely Emerald Isle!

Friday, March 12, 2010

I’m a cover girl!

Well, I never thought I’d be saying this, but I’m a cover girl! No, not a scantily clad model, or a spokeswoman for Covergirl makeup… My art is on the cover of the next issue of Quilting Arts magazine! I made this peacock feather piece called “Vanity” to demonstrate how you can use thread to highlight the element of line in your work.

It’s featured in the second installment of my thread-sketching series, which will run through 2010. 

You can pre-order the April/May 2010 issue of Quilting Arts right now by clicking here. It will be going out to subscribers in the next few weeks, and on newsstands (including Barnes & Noble) soon after that.

I am over the moon!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dreams of ancient Persia

I have just finished listening to the audio version a wonderful book by Susan Fletcher called Alphabet of Dreams that has me dreaming of ancient Persia. It is set at the time of the birth of Jesus, and follows the story of a 14-year-old girl and her little brother, who are of royal blood, but hiding out in the City of the Dead in Rhagae after their father's failed attempt to overthrow the king.

The best of books transport you into a different place and time, and this one has me thinking of pomegranates, dates and chickpeas, of royal purple tunics and fine woven linen, of camels and donkeys and Magi, and prophesies… If you are looking for a good read, I recommend it.

When I have grown weary of this world and its problems as I am today, it helps me to create something. I did this little sketch after finishing the last chapter. Perhaps it will end up in an art quilt someday.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Pandoras play with PhotoEZ sheets

At our monthly Pandoras meeting today, we played with PhotoEZ sheets. This product allows you to create your own silk screen stencils without chemicals or heavy equipment. To see a step-by-step tutorial on the PhotoEZ website showing how to create the stencil, click here.

We met at Grace Howes’ house, since she had done this before. It is best to apply the PhotoEZ in a semi-dark room, since it is photosensitive, so we had some funny moments crammed into her coat closet in the dark and then running outside to expose them in the sun. But the laughs stopped when none of our stencils came out! What was wrong? We tried and tried and nothing worked. Until Alisan arrived and read the directions. Duh! We had layered them incorrectly! As soon as we actually followed the directions (and made one call to the PhotoEZ headquarters help line), we were fine.

I started with this design I made from a paper cutout, scanned, repeated and resized in Photoshop:
Here’s how the stencil looks:
The green stuff is Duck Tape (a brand of heavy-duty tape similar to duct tape that is sold at craft stores and comes in funky colors) used to create a bigger surface for the paint to sit on before it is pulled down across the stencil.

When I got home, I played with screen printing onto fabric. I didn't have a squeegee, so I used an old gift card, which meant that I had to pull the ink down in several swoops. I need practice at this part, and get a real squeegee. And I need to try some different kinds of paints and inks to see what works best. Here are my very first results, using the old gift card and Jacquard Textile Color (a blue and green on the streaky one):

This is something I definitely want to try more! I think I need Grace to give me some lessons on the printing part.

Curious? You can read more about using PhotoEZ in Belinda Spiwak’s article in the current (March/April 2010) issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. 

When I got home, I called in to be interviewed on Pat Sloan’s Creative Talk Radio Show. Once I got over my nerves, it was such fun. Pat is a sweetie! We talked for about a half hour, and then Pokey Bolton, editor of Quilting Arts magazine, joined us. If you want to hear the whole thing, just go to the website by clicking here, and then click on the 03-08-10 title under “Recent Shows” at the top of the sidebar on the right. Then go to Pat’s blog (click here), where you can leave a comment and get the chance to win a copy of Appliqué Petal Party, or my Piñata Purse pattern, or a set of my orchid series notecards.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

PPP is going to Paducah!

Woo-hoo! I just found out that my appliqué quilt “Pink Petal Party” was juried into the American Quilter’s Society’s Paducah Quilt Show! The Paducah show will be held April 21-24, 2010 at the Paducah Expo Center, Julian Carroll Convention Center in Paducah, Kentucky.

The AQS Quilt Show & Contest at the Paducah show is considered to be one of the premier international quilting events. According to the AQS website, more than 37,000 people attend each year’s show, and more than $2.5 million in cash prizes have been awarded. Whether my quilt wins a prize or not, it is an honor just to be juried in, so I am really excited. This is the first time I have entered an AQS show.

For the list of all the semi-finalists for the 2010 show, click here

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I’ll be on Pat Sloan’s Creative Talk Radio on Monday!

Guess what? Pat Sloan is interviewing me and Pokey Bolton, editor in chief of Quilting Arts magazine, on her internet talk radio show on Monday, March 8 at 4 p.m. EST! Pat will be talking to me first, about my traditional quilts, and how I got started in art quilting. Then Pokey is scheduled to join in, and we’ll talk about different fiber art/quilt art techniques and materials.

You can tune in then and listen live online by going to Pat Sloan’s Creative Talk Radio. If you miss the live show, you can simply download it and listen later. (Remember, you can’t listen to my interview until Monday… But there are other fun interviews to keep you busy until then.)

We are also giving away a copy of my book, Appliqué Petal Party; a copy of my Piñata Purse pattern; and a set of my orchid series notecards! To enter the drawings, simply go to Pat’s blog on Monday, and leave a comment after her post about the show. Leave your comment on Pat’s blog by Friday, March 12 at noon EST.  

If you missed my mini-interview with Pat on my blog back in January, click here.

Pat’s a live wire, so this is bound to be bunches of fun. Please join us!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Win a copy of Kay Mackenzie’s new book!

My friend Kay Mackenzie has a darling new book out called Dolls & Dresses to Appliqué. It contains full-size patterns for “a dozen darling dolls in their delightful dresses” (try saying that 10 times fast!) An overview of fusible machine appliqué technique is incuded. The soft cover, 24-page book costs $15.95. You can order a copy on Kay’s website here.

You can see projects made from the patterns here. Here’s one showcasing all 12 dolls:
The cuteness factor is way high on this book! Kay has written a bunch of wonderful quilting books, most recently, Easy Appliqué Blocks: 50 Designs in 5 Sizes and Teapots 2 to Applique. She also writes a wonderful blog, All About Appliqué.

To help Kay celebrate, I’m giving away an autographed copy of her new book. Leave me a comment after this post telling me why you should win. I'll pull a winner at random at noon (Eastern time) on March 9. Make sure to check back that afternoon!