Thursday, January 31, 2013

Free Motion Butterfly

A Fine "Feathered" Friend

On my current "to do" list is a new bed quilt for my husband and myself. When I design a quilt I try to choose symbols and motifs that have significance to the recipient, in this case, my husband and me.

This ceramic butterfly has been with us since before we were married. It's image, in one form or another, will be the focal point of the quilt. The quilt will be whole cloth and free motion machine stitched. Right now I am auditioning different design concepts, and experimenting with different fabrics, threads and battings.

The first sample shows my stitched interpretation of this butterfly using cotton sateen fabric on the top and bottom, with Heirloom Hobbs cotton batting.

For all of these samples, I used a variety of very fine threads (#100). In all cases, the bobbin thread is "Superior Bottom Line". Here the top thread is a rayon machine embroidery thread .

The next sample shows the same design using silk dupioni fabric on the quilt top and bottom, with a wool batting, and stitched with YLI silk thread #100. What a revelation! Having used neither silk cloth or wool batting for a quilt before, I really did not understand what a difference it could make. The difference in the loft is amazing, and because it is significantly lighter in weight, it is much easier to work with. I am sold on both the wool batting and the silk fabric for future whole cloth quilts. It's a good thing!

The light, fluffy, crinkly feel of the silk and wool reminded me of the "poofy" taffeta dresses with crinolines that I used to wear to birthday parties when I was a kid.  (I have always thought that quilting is a party!!!)

Side by side comparison; silk on the left, cotton on the right. Note the difference in the relief.

In this last sample I'm playing with the design of a gardenia, which was the flower in my wedding bouquet.

For future reference,  I keep track of details such as thread type, needle size and tensions right on the sampler.

The design will evolve and change many times before I am ready to commit actual stitches to the real thing next autumn, when we will have been to and from France again. Until then, I will continue to have fun experimenting and playing with ideas.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A "Notion" to Sew

The right tools are just as important for sewing as they are for any other job. Using the right tools can eliminate a lot of frustration and wasted time, as well as assure a better final result. Below are the basic notions that I find indispensable whenever I am at the machine.

Left to right: small, sharp scissors;  tweezers;  stiletto;  seam ripper;  ruler with movable marker;  bone folder;  2 types of markers, depending on the job;  ruler for squaring up corners.

The "General's Charcoal White" marking pencil is perfect for most surfaces. I especially like it for marking quilts; it creates a clearly visible, clean line with relative ease. (Not all chalk pencils are created equal!)

I find that the "General's" pencil sharpens easily and doesn't break when sharpening, which many pencils do.

Fabric shops are not the only place to find the right notions for sewing. Below is a set of potter's tools that I recently found at an art shop for under $10.00. So often I am looking for just the right tool for turning a corner and making it sharp, or to flatten a seam. These potters tools provide a variety of sizes with different types of ends points, all of which will come in handy at some time or other.

This week's project, using many of the above notions, was a "sac" (shopping bag). Living in France, we have become accustomed to carry a "sac" with us almost every time we leave home. This particular style is easy to carry when full of shopping, and it folds down quite flat when empty  .

The fabric used for the bag is a tightly woven canvas, laminated on the inside for easy cleaning, yet still pliable and easy to work with. The edges are reinforced with a resilient piping.

Front view.
(Note our poinsettias in the background.  They are starting to lose their leaves, but the splash of red is still welcome on these very dark winter days.)

Side view.
The bag has already been christened with it's first load of groceries. Apparently it passed the test!


Whole Cloth Update:

Jan. 25/13

Hours of hand quilting this week: 5 hours, 10 mins.

Remaining arches:  20

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Personalizing with Monograms

Hand stitched napkins made for my daughter and son-in-law's wedding in 2007.

Dating back as far as the Egyptian hieroglyphics, initials, or monograms, have been used as a simple way to identify the maker of something or it's owner. Coins from ancient Greece held an imprint of the monogram of their rulers. During the construction of buildings in ancient times, the initials of either the master builder or the owner were often carved into the keystone of a building, or onto other prominent architectural features. An example of this can be seen at l'Abbey de Fontevraud in the Loire Valley in France, a retreat for women between the 11thC and 18thC , many of them aristocratic and wealthy, where two abbesses made certain their legacy would be remembered by leaving their crest and their initials on the tiled floor in areas of the abbey they had rebuilt.

Louise de Bourbon (1530 - 60), Duchess of Montpensier, was an abbess at the Abbey de Fontvraud.

Her aunt, Renee de Bourbon (1494 - 1539), Duchess of Lorraine,  was Abbess before her. Both aunt and niece left their mark on the tiled floor in the Chapter House.

At the Chateau de Chenonceau, an 11thC palace in the Loire Valley used by the French Royalty, Henry II of France (1519 - 1559), married to Catherine de Medici (1519 - 1589), gave his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, free reign of the chateau during his lifetime. Throughout the chateau, the intertwined initials of HD combat the initials of HC for supremacy.

Two "D's" for Diane interlock with the "H" for Henry.

Here the "H" takes precedence, whereas the two "C's" for Catherine interlock with each other.

The idea of adding a signature in the form of a monogram became a practical way to identify one's belongings. In the 18thC, where laundry was a communal task, linens were simply stitched with the initials of the owner, often in red thread, to keep the laundry easy to identify.

19thC linen tea towels from the south of France.

By the 19thC, these identifying marks had evolved into a way of adding flourish and decoration to something as basic as a pillowcase or a sheet. Monograms became a design feature, and young women were encouraged to prepare their trousseau by adding embroidery, with their initials, to these items.

Sheets my mother made for her own trousseau, likely in the 1930's. Her initials were "KP".

Redwork pillow shams, also from my mother's trousseau, using Gothic lettering this time.

By the 19thC, the raised satin stitch became the ideal to strive for. Wandering through the antique stalls on market days in France, there are always neatly stacked piles of antiqued white linens, with meticulously stitched monograms from earlier times. I do own one of these lovely monogrammed pillow shams from mid 19thC France, however, I am embarrassed to say, I can't find it. (I have looked through every possible location at least 3 times. Am I blushing?)

Using this antique pillow sham as an example,  I have attempted the raised satin stitch on some of my work.
Below are 2 examples.

The "HJ" have been stitched using the raised satin stitch technique.

Another hand stitched monogram on one of my aprons.

Because of the investment of time required to hand stitch a monogram, I find myself taking advantage of the sewing machine technology that is available today in many machines.

Stitched using pre-programmed lettering and designs built into the embroidery module of my machine. 

However, there are still those special occasions where the time and effort of hand embroidery are warranted, such as the marriage of my favourite daughter and son-in-law. (I only have one daughter and son-in-law!)

Whereas the need to identify our linens in a communal laundry is likely not an issue anymore, the desire to mark a special event with the flair and flourish of a hand stitched monogram still adds elegance to the occasion.


Whole Cloth Update:

Goal: 10 hours hand stitching per week
Jan. 11/13 : 26 arches left to stitch

Under goal: only 4 hours 55 mins.
Jan. 18/13: 23 arches left.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

New Year's Reboot/Refresh

Ah....!!! The ritual of the morning coffee.

While I am on the yoga mat refining that "perfect"? posture, the ritual of preparing that perfect cup of coffee is underway in the kitchen. The likelihood of the coffee reaching that perfect state of zen is much greater then that of the yoga posture.

After the energizing reboot/refresh of the morning ritual, there has been some progress to my ongoing projects.

Stitching has been completed and the cording stage of the "calibri" (hummingbird) boutis piece has started.

The hummingbird is slowly emerging.

Progress on the whole cloth hand quilt, mentioned in my last blog, was quite limited during the holidays, however, in the last week, I have averaged just under 2 hours of hand quilting per day. Never having been a speedy hand quilter, it will take me a while to get the speed up again.

These arches (most likely artichoke motifs) form the first of 3 rows in the border.

Each motif , along with the adjacent stem of berries, takes about 3 hours to quilt. There are currently 26 of these motifs left in the first border. Hopefully as I spend more time at it, my speed will increase.

I relate well to routine and pre planning, so I will try to get in those 10 hours of quilting every week. However, to quote John Lennon, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans".