Tuesday 31 May 2011

Scary moment!

Well it couldn't be put off any longer - I just had to take a deep breath and put scissors to quilt! I'm not usually a nervous type about such things, it's only fabric after all, but this is THE quilt we have chosen for a special repurposing.

It was a pretty nervewracking few minutes but the deed is done and there's no turning back. When you think that this is a large quilt that took many hours to piece and was quilted entirely by hand before Laura over quilted it by machine with a free motion feather design. We have invested untold hours already and that's before taking the original fabric dyeing and final discharge process into account! I can only hope the jacket turns out OK. I sampled the pattern first in calico. Laura tried it on and we marked all the changes we wanted in black pen. I took the whole thing apart and redrafted the pattern to the revised shape. Of course to make sure the new version would work I had to put the jacket together again. I should be able to make this up with my eyes closed by now!

Some of the little offcuts are really precious. I can't bear to bin them and after all the effort invested I shall have to think of some imaginative way to make good use of them!

Talk to you again soon - Linda

Thursday 26 May 2011

Shopping for a few essentials

We escaped the office today and braved the rain to go into Birmingham City centre. Now that we know what we're making for the fashion show we needed all kinds of stuff. There are fewer and fewer shops selling haberdashery these days so we're lucky that we can travel into the city and take advantage of the Rag Market.

We don't get there very often so it's a real buzz to enjoy the old fashioned atmosphere of the market with the traders all doing their best to get our attention. These organzas were hard to resist at £1 a metre!

There are no fancy displays, just an abundance of everything you could possibly want. After a good rummage I did manage to find the perfect colour zip amongst this heap.

With so many fabric stalls it's easy to be distracted but we were on a mission. We knew exactly what we wanted and left the market behind to go across the road to the Fancy Silk Store. They live up to their name and have an amazing choice of gorgeous silk fabrics as well as floor to ceiling displays of every other kind of fabric you can think of. We came away with so many carrier bags weighing us down our fingers turned blue! Absolutely no excuses not to be sewing now - we just have to get on with it!

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Can you tell what it is yet?

I thought I'd start this post with a bit of glorious colour because the rest of the images are disappointingly lacking in it! The peonies are at their best right now and I never quite know if the pink is too girly or if it's magnificent in its absolute pinkness.

No question marks over this one though. My absolute favourite colour and the shadowy dark green of the old hawthorn hedge makes such a good foil.

I've said before that we've taken a vow of silence over the detail of our designs for Fashion Sans Frontieres but it's difficult not to mention what we're doing at all because it's what is occupying much of our waking hours right now. In fact, not just the waking hours - I find myself dreaming about perfect length of hem and shape of sleeve!  

The studio is strewn with rough sketches, pattern pieces and first try outs of various garments.

It's no good investing many hours of work embroidering something that isn't going to fit so we're making every item in simple calico before we put scissor to precious cloth! Nothing looks very promising at the moment but just imagine the transformation when we use our own quilted, painted, discharged and embroidered fabrics! It's all very exciting!

Sunday 22 May 2011

Satisfying Sunday

It was a beautiful sunny Sunday if a little windy today. Spending most of the time in my studio I had one of those lovely days when lots of projects got finished at last. Very satisfying! Little quilts got their bindings and were mounted onto box canvases, embroidered panels had final detail added with fabric paint and gorgeous shell buttons were sewn onto a patchwork jacket. While all this was happening I had the embroidery machine racing away in the background making more pieces with some of the rayon and metallic threads from our new Madeira collections. Here's a Husqvarna butterfly design worked onto another old quilt I sacrificed in the name of art!

I love the soft gleam of the metallic thread and the fat body that's created with several layers of stitch.

Yet another old quilt bit the dust today but will live again in this panel embroidered with swallows.

The original fabric had a monoprint of a Robinia leaf. I was going to paint the white shapes to make them less obvious but decided at the last minute to leave them as they were. I did however roll a fine veil of white fabric paint over the edges of the quilting once everything was complete.

Compared to Laura I am a novice with the embroidery software but I am learning! It's fun being able to play with the composition of the various elements - changing size, position and direction before stitching them out. I know a lot of people think this kind of embroidery is somehow cheating. I really do not agree! What makes it all so satisfying is the pleasing way the digital techniques combine so well with my favourite free motion quilting.

If every day was as productive as this I might even meet all my deadlines!

Saturday 21 May 2011

If only they knew!

These cheeky fellows called by for a visit today. They seem quite at home nosing around the Ladies Mantle at the edge of the garden pond.

If they knew our latest work involves collecting and dyeing feathers they might have thought it wiser to keep a safer distance. So much temptation!

When I used to do a lot of watercolour painting Mallards were one of my favourite subjects - I just love that viridian on the head! It's nearly always colour that attracts me as a source of inspiration. I guess most of us who paint and stitch are the same - colour is our driving force. When you enjoy something that much it doesn't feel like work! So, although I suppose technically it is work, we had great fun yesterday putting more of our favourite colours together for some new thread collections that Madeira are creating for us. Last year they asked us to choose our favourite 18 threads to be packaged in a lovely rigid box. I can't tell you how long we debated over that! This year we've chosen 2 more collections so there was less arguing about all the gorgeous colours we couldn't fit in!

I've stitched this sample for the photograph that will illustrate one box set using just 2 of the colours - a gorgeous rayon and a lovely soft metallic.

And here I've used a few more colours from the same collection to embroider swallows to make yet more bags. Next time I'll show what lovely things we're making with the other collection.

Bye for now - Linda

Thursday 19 May 2011

New life for old quilts

There's nothing more satisfying than cannibalising an old quilt that's had its day and needs new life. A few years ago I made a log cabin quilt using Laura Ashley fabrics. It was exhibited once at Llanidloes in Wales and never saw the light of day again. Till this week that is. I love to layer techniques and I'd much rather embroider on a quilt than on a flat piece of cloth. There is more texture and the colours of the patchwork always tend to be more interesting. The swallows here are a Husqvarna design that was just tweaked a bit to change their direction and fill the embroidery hoop.

After the embroidery was finished a fine layer of white fabric paint was applied with a foam roller to create a distressed surface. I love the way the paint highlights the wrinkles in the hand quilted fabrics and the edges of the patchwork seams. What was quite a bright quilt suddenly looks like a pair of old faded jeans that have been washed and washed. It's destined to become a bag one day.

This afternoon we set the embroidery machine to work again and stitched some lovely little fabric name tags that will be used to label my garments and accessories for Festival of Quilts in August. Laura digitised a simple design that will make use of all the tiny scraps that are left over when I chop up my old quilts to make something new. Nothing goes to waste - it makes me feel good about the sacrifice!

Thanks for dropping by.

I promise not to go on and on about chickens!

OK,  I appreciate that not everyone reading this is interested in our domestic arrangements! I promise not to keep showing pictures of our new arrivals. BUT how cute is a day old chick? This one has decided the best way to find breakfast is to just jump into the bowl!

The good news is I spied another little pale yellow chick under the mom so we have 2 at least this morning.

Laura has digitised me some new embroidery designs so if I can tear myself away from the henhouse long enough to get into the studio today I'll try them out and post something more work related later!
Bye for now - Linda

Wednesday 18 May 2011

secrets and other things we can't show!

I feel I must write a few words of explanation for anyone who's popped over to this page from our Newsletter. I can't imagine what you made of Laura's mention of squawking starlings in the office wall! It does feel like we are living in a zoo right now. The starlings in question have nested in the wall cavity and since the babies hatched 2 days ago the noise is unbelievable. I can't show any pictures because the parents are too quick for me and I don't suppose the young will be visible until they fledge. The squawking starts about 4 in the morning, lasts all day and is very distracting when trying to answer email!

From wild birds to domestic. The saga of the broody hen continues. You may remember I showed her sitting on her eggs a while ago. Well we counted the days and the predicted day of hatching came and went without incident. I had just about convinced myself to throw the eggs out and persuade her to rejoin the flock when, low and behold this morning there is at least 1 chick. Mom is making all the right reassuring clucking noises so I shall leave her to it and hope for more chicks tomorrow. I don't want to disturb her but I promise to try for photos soon.

We are working frantically on our designs for the fashion show at Festival of Quilts this summer. The studio is strewn with inspirational images, paper pattern pieces, fabric samples and all sorts of clutter. We've got all our machines sewing at once but you'll have to take my word for it because we have been sworn to secrecy! Not surprisingly the organisers want to keep the garments under wraps until the big night. The word is that as well as designing and making the clothes we also have to model them. That's the worrying thing! Anyone know a good diet?

Sunday 15 May 2011

Need more fabric!

Lots of people imagine that Laura and I must have vast supplies of fabric just lying around waiting to be used. The truth is we always have loads of scraps and offcuts from previous projects (which of course will be used eventually!) but the only large pieces are those we create when we have a specific thing in mind, or when Laura is preparing fabrics to sell at a big show.

I accept this picture is not a thing of beauty! My storage system is basically to stuff as much as I can in these towers of plastic crates. Each tower sits on a wheeled base so I can move it around easily. Being transparent helps a bit when I'm searching for a scrap of a particular colour but there's so much crammed in there I usually have to resort to tipping the contents onto the floor. I don't mind 'cause I usually see some colour combinations I wouldn't necessarily have thought of in the heap.

For my own work I buy a 100 metre roll of lovely mercerised, white cotton poplin every once in a while. It lives propped up in a corner of the studio until I feel the urge to have a dyeing day. There's not much point making a lot of mess for just a bit of fabric so I prefer to dye a big bucketful! These are all 2 metre lengths and will be used for quilt tops, backings, hanging sleeves.... whatever.

I love dyeing layers of fabric just scrunched in a bucket - look at the wonderful marks it makes!

As well as dyeing this week I've also been adding the finishing touches to some little pieces destined for exhibition this summer. Here's a detail of a digitally embroidered moth worked over the top of free motion quilting. The upper wings are simply outlines in the digitised sketch but I've painted them in with metallic paint letting the free motion stitching provide the shapes.

And just in case you think I've been neglecting my duties! Sunday is my day for playing domestic goddess - here's today's bread. I just wish you could smell my kitchen!!

Talk again soon,

Tuesday 10 May 2011

This 'n' that

The eagle eyed will have noticed that I've added links to a couple more of my favourite sites today.

Catherine is one of the DesignMatters team and a fellow member of thr3fold. She's recovering from a recent house move and is now busy organising her studio space. Moving house is fine but moving all those art materials, books, fabrics and sewing machines is quite another thing. The removal men must have earned their keep! Catherine tells me she's enjoying unpacking her 'stuff' so she can get back to her creative work to keep herself sane!

Stephanie is one of our favourite mixed media artists and writes an entertaining blog. You may have seen her, and the pieces we made when we took one of her classes a while back, on our Facebook page. Stephanie updates her blog regularly and is always generous with details of her working process and the techniques she uses. Her distinctive style is quite unique and completely inspirational.

I'm sure you'll enjoy keeping up with both of them!

If you follow Edwina's blog you'll have seen the beautiful Irises blooming in her garden this week. Not to be outdone I've been out photographing some of my own. I feel the urge to get the watercolour paints out right now! I love to try and capture the colours and shapes of Iris but the patterns in the throats of these blooms are a real challenge to paint!

I've also been waiting patiently for these beauties to bloom. The smaller Alliums have been in flower for a couple of weeks but this variety always makes us wait.

I'll give it a few days and then post another image of the globelike head in its full glory! Don't you just love those soft blue green leaves with the delicate mauves of the petals? Complementary colours at their most subtle.

And now as they say for something completely different. Yes you can believe your eyes - I have cut a hole in a quilt. Why is it that the bit you want is always right in the middle? I've been cannibalising this old quilt to salvage some quilted fabric to make feathers. That peachy bit was perfect!

I can't give away too many details of the garments we are creating for the Fashion sans Frontier show at Festival of Quilts this summer - we have to keep some secrets after all. What I can reveal is that there will be feathered embellishments involved! Here's some early sampling of painting and beading.

Thanks for visiting! Talk to you again soon - Linda

Sunday 8 May 2011

Waiting for paint to dry

I have a fascination for moths and butterflies and they have inspired both old and recent work. Right now I am altering a book with that theme and it's a real pleasure to let the lovely images already on the page have their part to play.

I don't want the pages to be too predictable so I'm bringing in more favourite things, some lovely old key shapes to sit alongside the moths and I'm letting the original illustrations influence my colour palette.

I've printed with white acrylic paint and added a wash of  watercolour - I love the way those concentrated watercolours sit on the bits of the page where there's no acrylic!

Some of the pages were in danger of coming loose so I've mended them with strips of masking tape and added paint to make the strips an integral feature of the open spread.

Cut paper shapes let me audition ideas for collage before I use glue to make everything permanent.

DMTV members who joined me in the Friday Night Fix series will know how much fun it is to use compressed sponge as a print block - my latest sponge prints are in my workroom drying as I write this. The most frustrating part of altering books is waiting for paint to dry!  I'll let you see how they turned out next post!

Bye for now, Linda

Saturday 7 May 2011

Weekends are for relaxing so they say!

There's no time to waste right now. We have quilts to finish (actually we also have quilts to start but we're trying not to think about that) and garments to design, construct and embroider. Laura is busy dyeing feathers (don't ask!) for something we have in mind and I've been set the task of making paper beads which will form neat little collars around the ends of the dyed feathers so we can attach them to fabrics. If it all works out it will be great!

To make best use of time I'm even doing 'stereo' quilting on the longarm machine. These two quilts are long and narrow and fit happily side by side.

I'm often asked where my inspiration comes from. Nature never fails to inspire me, especially when I'm looking for exciting colour combinations. Who could resist the new leaves of our banana plant as they unfurl? This specimen is taller than I am - a photograph really can't do it justice.

Funny thing is, although I love the perfection of the new leaves, I think I like it even more when the colour retreats like this on a dying lower leaf. I can just imagine a quilt with those colours and sinuous curvy shapes - just give me a few more hours in the day and I'll get round to it!

Bye for now - Linda

Friday 6 May 2011

signs of obsession?

It's baking day today - nothing unusual about that, I bake two or three times a week and unless we're away on holiday I haven't bought a loaf of bread in years.

After much trial and error I found a reliable recipe that works beautifully so I stick with it but to make sure it doesn't get boring I change the cuts on the top each time! Today I used scissors to make what the family call hedgehog spikes.

A couple of days ago I favoured parallel cuts. Another symptom of obsessive compulsive behaviour - the control freak strikes again!

Bread making is creative and as satisfying as any of the other things that fill my day but just in case you think I'm neglecting my stitching here's what's keeping me busy in the evenings right now.

It's a detail of a landscape inspired quilt. I've discharged the sky and moon area with deColorant spray and I'm now seed stitching the 'Blue Moon' with 4 or 5 different Madeira Lana woollen threads to soften and blend the colours. It's time consuming but I love the contrast of texture it adds. 

I'll post pictures of the whole quilt once it's finished. Talk to you soon. Linda

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Deadlines looming!

I have been really productive over the last few weeks but it has meant I now have a heap of new quilt tops with nothing much actually finished. With exhibition dates getting alarmingly close it is very satisfying to take each piece and add the finishing touches.

Here I'm using white fabric paint to accentuate the shapes of the cresting waves in my Big Wave quilt. Adding detail and focus with paint at the very end of the making process is one of my favourite things. This one is nearly there now - just needs its label and it's done. That's more than can be said for the growing collection of projects on the design wall!
All of these pieces are potentially quilts for our exhibition - just need to find a few hours stitching time.
Maybe, instead of sitting here chatting I should be working on them right now!

Monday 2 May 2011

Another day in paradise

Some days just make your heart sing don't they? It's a glorious May Day holiday here and I'm enjoying some creative time out in my studio. Toby isn't making it easy to use the longarm machine but he just loves to keep me company! What is it with cats and quilts? I've added to my collection of 4inch Cut and Come Again blocks today. After a couple of hours this morning I've nearly made enough to play with the final layout. I haven't decided yet but I'll probably join them with narrow sashing strips to add a more formal structure - the control freak in me isn't too comfortable with totally random! The garden is a big distraction right now. As a result of all the warm sunny weather we've been having it looks as though we'll have a great crop of cherries this year - that's as long as the birds don't beat us to them! Maybe I shouldn't dare say it but a drop of rain would be good to swell the fruits. And just look at the bluebells in the wild part of our garden - what could look prettier than England in the spring? I hope you are having a good day too!

Sunday 1 May 2011

At home for the holiday weekend

I love this time of year the best. Everything in the garden is bursting with promise. Our ducks and chickens enjoy the dappled shade of the willow as they pick through the compost heap and that speckled beauty sits contentedly in solitary confinement in the maternity wing of the henhouse. Believe it or not she's covering 12 eggs so we have all our fingers crossed that we'll have chicks in a week or two. Just in case you aren't into bucolic idylls there's also a bit of patchwork. DMTV members will be able to see Edwina's Cut and Come Again technique from Wednesday but here's a sneak preview of my efforts. I couldn't wait to have a go and was busy pressing and cutting fabric the minute she left the studio after making the video!! Her method uses up all sorts of odd scraps and is really satisfying to do. She should have warned me how compulsive it is though!