On the Generosity of Quilters

It’s been a glorious week. Last Friday I did a workshop on the Improv Wedding Ring method. The class was given by the South African artist and award winning quilter Joy Clark in Port Elizabeth. Joy had in turn taken the class with the artist and designer Diana Vandeyar at the 2019 South African National Quilt Festival. Diana gave Joy permission to repeat her class, generously even sharing her notes. Six of us had a very happy, laughter filled and stimulating day with Joy.

This is the quilt that Joy Clark made at Diana Vandeyar’s Improv Wedding Ring class

Joy calmly and clearly walked us through the method and once we had marked our blocks, stacked and slashed them according to Diana’s very clever method, the sewing machines started humming and we (almost) forgot that it was a blazing hot and humid day. The method resulted in nine blocks that could then be arranged in different ways to arrive at the perfect pattern. It took a bit of shuffling until the design clicked into place and there were sounds of “ah yes, that’s it”. Well, mostly. I was not entirely happy with the arrangement of my blocks and so decided not to sew them together and finish the quilt top at the workshop. At home I made another set of blocks and added them to the mix to make a larger quilt. This also means that the piece is about 120 cm (48 inches) square and can be used as a throw.

It didn’t end here for me. I found myself looking at photographs of modern quilts and becoming more inspired. I have previously read up on modern quilting but found the written descriptions confusing (perhaps a reaction to trying to wrap my head around postmodernism in literature). But the QuiltCon and other photographs on the web got me going and so I stitched another 16 block Improv Wedding Ring quilt top. I also got out my copy of the book Cut Loose Quilts by Jan Mullen and am planning to have some fun with improv circles, using her stack and slash method.

My second Improv Wedding Ring quilt, using only two colours to see what the effect would be. My fingers are itching to start hand quilting it.

Diana Vandeyar won two awards at QuiltCon 2018 for her quilts Grandmother’s life on Mars and 713 Lollipop. There is an interview with her on the web that makes for stimulating and fascinating reading.

Poem #29

Singing Strips

Born of the taffeta selvages
(the bright outer edges
salvaged from Shifting Rock Strata)
this quilt sings
of happy surprises.

Pinned onto five strips of black,
the bright bits sat for a while
and then began to sway 
to a melody played by the leftover squares
from that same set of fabric.

The next step
was to line up and layer
the strips and squares,
like dancing girls prancing 
before a black background

Then this impromptu song & dance
shouted for the embellishment
of beads and shiny stitches
and called for a quilted backdrop of gold.
Singing Strips. 116 x 55 cm.


The owner of this quilt calls it Rain Dance. It is a better title and I am very glad this early quilt (made in 2006) went to a good home. It was one of the first quilts that I sold and it seems right to acknowledge its owner for her support of my early stitchings, not only by buying this quilt but through her enthusiastic encouragement. I am grateful.

On Stitching the Months of 2020

It’s official. I am hopelessly in love with kantha stitching. Without much thought, I began stitching a sampler a couple of weeks ago and now I have committed myself to making one for each month of the year.

Kantha sampler for January 2020 (22 x 36 cm, or 9 x 14 inches)

Yes, I know the first week of the short month of February has already passed and I have only just finished January’s sampler. I have decided not to give myself a size restriction, so I could make a tiny piece for February. And this is a leap year, so I have an extra day (HA!). The joke may well end up being on me. (Last year I boldly wrote that I would make a house every weekend and end 2019 with 50 houses for a village quilt. That didn’t work out, so this year I resolved not to make any quilting resolutions.)

It was the rain that inspired this piece. (I know that I keep harping on the invigorating effect of the good rains that have broken the year-long drought, but it has been an enormous relief.) With the idea of depicting in thread the change from a brown, dusty environment to a green and lush world, it struck me that I could stitch the letters of the month in a gradation to depict this change. It was also a chance to play with my stash of interesting threads. Many of them are hand dyed perle thread from House of Embroidery. The greenest green in my thread box was a DMC skein of embroidery thread.

I had also been idly wondering about using kantha stitching to create letters and this was a good opportunity to try it out. The circles at the bottom of the piece were inspired by a set of painted circles on the inside cover a book I recently read, Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami.

For the letters I used the bricking kantha stitch and ran the lines very close to one another to get a more solid effect. The circles were stitched using the stepping method. (I wrote about learning these variations in a previous post. In both cases I had fun experimenting with my needle and thread. For example, when I found that the negative spaces in the circle were becoming too large, I filled them in with a bridging stitch and continued “stepping” around the circle with double the amount of stitches. (It might be easier to just look at the photograph to see what I mean!)

Last week I wrote about being overwhelmed by having five simultaneous projects on the go. The January kantha sampler was project no. 2 and I must say I am pleased to have reduced the number of projects on-the-go. Before I brag about finishing project no. 3, a quick note and photograph on the start of project no. 4. It is also a kantha project and is destined to be a companion piece to Fragmented Flower, the work in progress which I wrote about last week.

The first completed petal of a flower, using kantha stitch

the completion of project no. 3

This quilt has been around for nearly a year and was born at a workshop with my local quilting group when my good friend Karen showed us the birch tree method, which I wrote about previously and I decided to use the hand dyed indigo cloth that had been sitting in my cupboard for a couple of years.

Indigo Blues (178 x 102 cm)

While this is not quite kantha stitching, the influence is there. I quilted it over weekends while watching movies on Netflix. The rows of stitching are about a half inch apart and were stitched freehand, using shadow quilting. I began the quilting by following the lines of the shwe shwe inserts at the centre of the quilt. The quilt is bound with more shwe shwe fabric. (Shwe shwe is a popular South African cloth that was originally printed indigo style in blue and white. It has lately branched out to include vibrant fabric in bright colours.)

I am particularly fond of Indigo Blues for its warm associations. I have already mentioned Karen’s workshop where the quilt was born. Another quilting friend, Augusta, arranged a dyeing party for the QUOGs (Quilters of Grahamstown) to celebrate her birthday and that was where I dyed the cloth — and had much fun. At Karen’s workshop, my friend Cathy, who has a sharp and true eye, helped me arrange the blocks. She said the pattern made her think of jazz music and suggested I call the piece Riff. (“In popular music, jazz, etc., a short repeated phrase, freq. played over changing chords or harmonies or used as a background to a solo improvisation”(OED).) It is a perfect description, but I could not warm to the harsh sounding consonants in the word. It is, afterall, a very soft quilt.

As for Project No. 5, it is still only an idea in my head.

On too much, too little

It is approaching noon on a Thursday morning, and I have been vacillating about whether to keep my weekly blog-writing date. I could just sit here and admire this view of our garden which has turned green after the recent rains…

The point is that I am working on five projects at once, and this became too much. So, yesterday I decided to concentrate on one of the pieces and stitched it to the point where I could bind it. I have used this trick before when I am feeling overwhelmed by a work that doesn’t want to gel.

Fragmented Flower, a work in progress (70 x 53 cm)

Now I am going to use my second trick, which is to allow it to lie fallow for a while, until I know what to do next. I suspect that the answer may be to add more close stitching (oh no, she cried). Meanwhile, I have four other projects to keep me busy while I ponder about the next step!

A while ago I confessed to keeping all the short threads that are generated during my stitching adventures (https://marissthequilter.wordpress.com/2019/08/15/more-on-scraps/). I used these threads to create the solid parts of the flower. First I made thread fabric by sandwiching the bits between two layers of washaway and then machine stitching a grid over the layer to stabilise the threads into a woven mat. Then I cut out the shapes for the flower, and used a template for the circle in the centre and then cut the crescents freehand. I hand appliqued the shapes onto the backing cloth and from there it seemed right to fill in the blanks with kantha stitching.

Next step was to delve into the treasure trove of fabrics that my generous friend Laura Bruno Lilly sent to me, across the oceans from the United States. I boldly cut out an embossed gold flower and some leaves from a piece of reproduction fabric. This beautiful gold foliage was carefully appliqued onto the flower. The fourth step was to start shadow quilting around the flower. Deciding on the fabric for the binding took a while and I am not entirely happy with the choice I made.

And that’s the story behind one of the five projects. Don’t worry, I am not going to tell you about the other four! But, to end off, here’s an account of some machine sewing I did this week.

On her blog Night Quilter, Kitty Wiblin posted photographs of a delightful skinny fabric bin she had made and wrote of how she uses a range of these bins to store small fabric scraps of different colours. It’s a very clever idea, to colour coordinate one’s tiny scraps. Then she generously provided a clear and detailed tutorial on how to make the fabric bin. Here’s a photograh of the skinny bin I made for fun and for a break from hand stitching. It is 9 inches (23 cm) tall. (I must say I do feel a little sorry for that duck that looks as if it has a crick in its neck from having to look upwards!)

The link for the post is https://nightquilter.com/2020/01/24/fabric-skinny-bin-tutorial/

On Milestones

Thank you WordPress for the digital {W} badge which popped up in my notifications a week ago to mark my “2 Year Anniversary Achievement”. Then yesterday I got another notice which said “Congratulations on writing 100 posts on Fabrications!”

At first I decided not to brag about this. Afterall one of the sites I follow ,& (or in full, “commaandco”) has written ten times that many posts. Read all about it at https://commaand.co/2020/01/18/1000-posts/ Then I thought, what the heck. So, to celebrate my century, here are some photographs. They are details from various quilts I have made over the years.

A random thought based on a calculation: There are 52 weeks in a year, I have been blogging for two years and have written 100 posts. Therefore I have almost met my target of writing a post a week.

Poem #28

Shifting Rock Strata

Taffeta is shot
with contrasting thread
so that the fabric tantalizes
in woofs and warps
as it follows the light.

I chose a range 
woven in earth tones
and a red-orange one for fire
to reflect our planet’s core
and its radiating rock strata.

The quilt probes
the secrets of Earth’s depths
where molten lava seethes
and a restless dragon furnaces a fire 
that pleats stone-steeled layers into folds. 

Or finds a fault and erupts.

Shifting Rock Strata (46 x 32 cm)

On Celebrating the Rain

Celebrating the Rain (29 x 24 cm)

Last week I mentioned a new small quilt that I had spontaneously made to celebrate the soft rain that was falling at the time and promised to write about my discovery of using ink to colour the background of the fabric for a quilt. This is the quilt, with only traces of the inky background. Once again, there is a story to how that happened.

A while ago the textile artist Pam Holland posted an article on the process of making a quilt depicting a delightful giraffe, and how she used pigment ink to colour the background. (https://iampamholland.com/2020/01/06/working-through-the-process-2/) I always read her posts with great interest and marvel at her beautiful photographs. This post particularly piqued my interest when I read the sentence “I don’t ever use paint on fabric“. In the past I have used diluted fabric paint to colour the background sky and earth for some of my house quilts, but after reading this I decided to try using ink instead. What a pleasure it was to work with ink instead of lumpy paint.

I painted the background after I had constructed a small village by appliqueing a set of squares and triangles. These were offcuts from zipper pouches and fabric wallets that I had made at the end of last year.

First the scraps of squares and triangles suggested they would like to become a village. Then when I flipped the piece the “shadow” village on the reverse side seemed more pleasing to the eye and also suggested that the blotchy effect from the ink that had bled through matched the rainy day. Then another idea struck — vertical lines of matchstick machine quilting would accentuate the rainy feeling. So I found two spools of turquoise thread, inserted a twin needle in my sewing machine and attached the little-used walking foot. Then I sandwiched the village scene onto a backing, added batting, and started stitching.

Halfway through the process of machine quilting vertical lines to give the effect of falling rain

The third step in the making of this piece was to add more rain, using metallic embroidery thread. This was the most difficult part of the process as all that machine quilting had made the piece non-pliable and so the needle did not glide smoothly through the fabric. Metallic thread snaps and snags and shreds easily. But it was worth the effort and the regular re-threading of the needle. In the end I used very short lengths of threads. There is also a happy connection associated with this particular skein of DMC metallic embroidery thread. I had used some of it in the quilted lines in the sky of my previous quilt Waiting for the Rain, to brighten things up a little.

Another Celebration

This time it’s a celebration of friendship. One of the happy consequences of writing a blog is that one makes friends with like-minded people who share the same interests. One of these people generously sent me a package after she had read a post I wrote about putting a zip on the outside of a pouch or bag. She wrote to say she had some novelty zippers that she would like to send me. The package arrived this week and it was like Christmas all over again. So here’s a public thank you, Laura, for sending not only a pair of quirky zippers, but a selection of fascinating fabrics. (The cd of your beautiful music is not in the photograph because it was in the player, playing, as I took the photograph.)

Sewing adventures await when I decide what to make with this treasure trove of vintage and interesting fabrics