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Pockets at the beach: Mom’s birthday art quilt

July 2, 2011

Happy Birthday to my Mom on July 3!

My mom is so wonderful. Words cannot express how awesome she is and how many amazing things she has done for my family and me, especially now that we have children and she can be Grammy Pammy. I wanted to make something instead of buying something to celebrate her birthday to express my gratitude.

I know she has a favorite photo of my dog, Pockets, at the beach. He was watching some birds that don’t show up very well in the photo.

Just pretend you can see the birds

I had a grand idea to turn the photograph into a small art quilt. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off. It just seemed so complicated. I decided to just stop worrying about it and DO IT. The whole idea is to cut bits of fabric and iron them on to create the fabric “painting,” and then use thread painting, stitching, and wool to translate the photo into a small art quilt.

Mom's mini art quilt

My Process

I started by posterizing the photograph using GIMP, a free program similar to Photoshop, and then turning it into grayscale so I could get crisp shading. Then I printed out the image on regular copy paper.


Next, I chose my fabrics and ironed on fusible web product that bonds fabric to fabric. When heat is applied, it turns into a sort of glue that allows you to “glue” fabric into place. I selected and cut some muslin for the blank canvas. I then used my grayscale image as a pattern to individually cut out the shades of Pockets, matching a different fabric to the shading. It’s hard to get it exactly the same, so I just figured I could rectify any wonky spots with the thread painting aspect. I even used the back of a yellow fabric because the shade matched better than the regular side!

I then figured out that I should start with the overall background images first and then leave the details like Pockets for last.

Assembling the background. I ironed them in place once I was happy with what it looked like.

The next few pictures show different aspects of the details I added once I had the background in place.

I wanted the darker stitching to look like water trails and pools from the surf

I used different color threads to make the birds. At first, I wanted to do pelicans, but am glad I just stuck with a simple line shape. Cheesy as it is, I thought it would be nice to have the two birds represent her two grandchildren.

Pockets and his shadow. I used 2 different threads on Pockets--a boring neutral, and some flashy gold. I left the shadow alone. You can also see the wool I stitched and glued in place, hoping to create the illusion of surf.

I used low loft batting and hand-dyed muslin from another project for the backing. I am trying to make the back look as good as the front by trying to eliminate shoddy stitching–trying being the key word!

I do like the back

My biggest area of growth hands down is getting a straight binding. I used bias tape instead of making my own, and I think the lessons I learned speak for themselves without me having to point out everything. I did, however, slice it up really evenly with my rotary cutter. I guess we’ll say the binding adds some, um, character.

I didn’t add a hanging sleeve, mount it, or frame it, because I’ll let my mom decide how she wants to display it.

Overall, I am way excited about how it turned out. This is my second time fusing and stitching a picture into a small art quilt, and I am just smitten.

Some of the fabrics are the same ones I used in the Something Blue quilt for my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding.
Total number of fabrics: 13 including the binding
Total number of threads used on the top: seven




June 16, 2011

I’ve got a plan for what my stitching will be for the TMQG’s July Challenge. I figured I ought to take inventory of all the thread I have, since my idea involves free motion stitching on 25 different areas with different thread colors. I also set an additional challenge to myself to only use items already in my house for every aspect. This goes for the quilt top, thread, batting, backing, and sashing–everything.

Well, let me just say I had no idea how much thread I had! I knew my thread box sat perched on the bookshelf with slivers of color spilling out over the edge, like some technicolor bird’s nest on acid.

the thread stash

When I roam the fabric store, I tend to pick out thread for the project, which of course, rarely gets made. That’s how I end up with all these spools! I found metallic threads in gold, silver, blue, and green, enough blue thread to make 54 blue quilts, 3 spools of neat variegated thread, embroidery thread in all colors, 2 heavy duty spools, monofilament clear thread, and elastic thread, in addition to the normal sewing thread. I was surprised I didn’t get bogged down on myself for seeing a visual representation of all the projects never finished, as I tend to throw myself under the bus as a default thinking mode for irrational reasons.

While I can’t remember how I acquired some spools, other spools had me thinking about the project for which it was intended and what I was doing with myself that year. I’ve only been serious about sewing since 2003, so it’s not like I had decades to wade through. I’ve had so many changes and transitions in my life since 2003 that lining up the thread spools by category and then color was a nice exercise in reflection. Who knew thread would bring up so many memories?

I really am glad I took inventory of the stash so I can maybe design projects around the thread I have as I explore thread sketching and thread painting in the future. I also know I have a LOT to learn when it comes to the types of thread available to art quilters.

I could easily get tangled up in blue

What does your thread stash say about your buying habits or crafting personality? What thoughts and memories do you find bubbling up to the surface as you think back on projects and life? I am also curious if you think this is a tiny thread stash or an excessive one, since we all bring different experiences in interpretation. Tell me about your thread stashes!

Finding time to create with little ones around

June 10, 2011

I’ve been trying to figure out how to find time to create with two kids under two while also trying to feed everyone and keep the house off any of those hoarding TV shows. I’ve actually managed to find some inspiration with half my screen with blogs while sharing the other half with youtube Elmo videos for the older one while bouncing the younger one on my knee. When is nap time again??

I came across an interview with Beth Helfter on Quilting Gallery whose words really are an inspiration to me with her “20 Minutes a Day” personal rule.

For those quilters in the throes of raising families, quilting is just one more thing to add to the day’s “to do” list, and in our quest to make everyone in our lives happy except ourselves, something that gives us pleasure is the first thing to go. But it shouldn’t be. I am a firm believer both in “a happy mom means a happy family” and in my own personal 20 Minutes a Day rule…

Sure, that was a lot of 20 minute increments of my life over the course of two and a half years, but those 20 minute increments may have been all that kept me sane and feeling like I was accomplishing something just for me during the first two and a half years of my twins’ lives. And there is a lot to be said for remembering what makes YOU happy while you are trying to keep everyone else in your family happy. I am not sure how to reach all the former quilters who have given up due to a perceived lack of time, but I sort of want to make it a personal quest now to get them back. Because for one thing, the more under 45 quilters we have, the longer I can stay well under the average age. Do it for you. Do it for me.

Well, Beth, count me in at 31 years and small kids! I love the concept of 20 minutes a day–and no one said they should be consecutive. 34 seconds here, 4 minutes there…it will add up.

My wonderful sister-in-law and brother gave me Lyric Kinard’s Art + Quilt: Design, Principals and Creativity Exercises for my birthday. Among other inspirational and practical things, she talks about being creative and realistic with your workspace. She has 5 kids, so she ought to know. She says,

For a few years, I sewed standing up at a corner of the kitchen counter. It was too high for the little ones to reach. I could leave my projects out and take a stitch here and a stitch there…it does help to have some space, no matter how small, dedicated to your artwork.

These women are both inspirational to hear how they managed to create art while having small ones around. I create not to win some sort of race, but as a means of art therapy–to stay sane and as a focus in concentration and patience. Creating during my “me time” gives my brain a break from the constant chaos of kids, and I will take all the inspiration I can get and share it here for people saying, “But I have no time to make anything with kids!” I’m learning I have the same amount of time as anyone else; it’s what I do with that time that will allow me to get something, anything, done. And that is way better than not creating anything at all.

By all means, leave a comment if you have tips!

Bargello Placemats

May 30, 2011

I am finally finished with my bargello placemats! I started in November, got as far as making the quilt sandwiches by Christmas, did the free motion quilting in March and April, and finished the bindings in May.

They were intended for my Mom for Christmas to match the colors in her kitchen. I’d been looking at bargello quilts online and decided I’d figure out how to make them, as they totally baffled me. I did some Lucy Math (never trust Lucy Math!) and bought some fat quarters and yardage. Here’s one of the Bargello Placemat instructions I used  loosely.

My first attempt came out nicely.

I thought making 6 would be easy, because they are small. Instead, I found myself making 6 small quilts. 24 edges to bind instead of 6. Oops! I also ran out of fabric for various sashes and backings. Oops, again! The final straw was when I ran out of binding and had to buy double-sided bias tape in a pinch.

I found that hand stitching the binding on a quilt, once my least favorite part of making a quilt, is now actually a nice thing to look forward to in the evening in front of some bad TV. Hand stitching is rhythmic and allows me to zone out while concentrating at the same time. It allows me to slow down and think about all sorts of things that don’t cross my mind when juggling 2 kids’ needs under 2 years day in and day out.

I am also really quick to point out the errors and mistakes I made when giving the bundle to my mom. Why would I do that? I really don’t want my default setting to be one that throws me under the bus in the first breath. I am proud to say that I am proud of my handiwork; most importantly, I am proud that I am listening to the lessons I learned throughout this process.

And now, the placemats!

Six bargello placemats

The backs

Close up on the topo map-like contour free motion quilting

Quilted lines on the back

Rolled up ready to give to Mom

the thing with feathers

May 27, 2011

I have always wanted to make fiber artwork inspired by literature. I did make a few batts inspired by Wuthering Heights, Dahl’s The BFG, and Thing 1 and Thing 2.

inspired by the moor in Wuthering Heights

golden fizzwizard dream from The BFG

frobscottle batt from The BFG

Thing 1 and Thing 2 batt

I made my friend a small felted flat piece, combining batt scraps, needle felting, and free motion machine stitching. I figured why not stitch on felt? I’ve seen it on Quilting Arts TV and on various pieces in felting books and etsy.

Next: Poetry 
I used Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the thing with feathers” as inspiration. I am really excited about exploring this poem more in future pieces.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

the thing with feathers.

I chose the ice blue wool for the “chillest land” and “strangest sea” for the background.

I love everything about Lisa Klakulak’s video on Free Motion Stitching on Felt:

Mama See Mama Do Institute of Art: Free Motion Quilting

May 15, 2011

If you recall from October, I set out a rather ambitious bucket list of art skills I wanted to explore. I have not forgotten! I’ve had a baby since then and am finally getting some quality ME time to get back into crafting and learning.

One of my classes was from the Intermediate Quilting category. I called it “Thread Sketching 101: Using the Needle as a Pencil.”

I am happy to report that I have actually kept up with a sketch square, where I can try out different threads and designs. The most helpful thing this sketch square has done is give me the freedom to explore without “messing up.” I started this idea at a machine quilting workshop at Wish Upon A Quilt in 2009.

The darker blue threads are from my old Brother machine that I’ve since sold at a yard sale. I didn’t have a free motion foot, so some of it’s a bit wonky and sloppy. The orange/yellow variegated thread, pebbles, and “Charlotte” script are from my latest attempt with a free motion foot made especially for my Husqvarna 545 Lily machine. It is so exciting for me to see a tangible record to see my progress in just a few short months.

I still have several “lessons” I want to teach myself. The next one involves the Kona Charm Pack Challenge in Dusty Palette from the Triangle Modern Quilt Guild‘s July activity.

The Challenge Rules:

Here’s the challenge, should you choose to accept it: make something from the charm pack to show off at our July guild meeting.  It can be a mini quilt, table runner, larger quilt, wall hanging, pillow(s), bags, stuffed toys … basically, whatever you can dream up.  You can supplement the charm pack with ONE additional fabric (solid or print), but that’s it.  (Backing and binding for quilts is fair game — use whatever you want for those, and it won’t count as your one additional fabric.)

I’d love to use each square to showcase a different design featured in 365 days of free motion quilting from Leah Day’s blog, The Free Motion Quilting Project.   I’m still trying to decide on a quilt design, but at least I have a starting point!

To see what other people have done with this challenge, check out the MQG Robert Kaufman Kona Solids Challenge Quilt Flickr Pool.  You can also view all the charm pack colors here.

Pinecone Turkeys

November 16, 2010

To make these fabulous pinecone turkeys, you will need:

  • pinecones
  • leaves
  • sharpie/marker
  • scissors
  • invisible tape or glue
  • Thanksgiving props!


Gather huge pinecones from a yard. Get some cardboard out of the recycle bin, two types of leaves from outside: some that have pointy edges (oaks are great), and leaves that look like feathers, a sharpie, tape, and scissors.

Cut out a neck from the cardboard and tape it to the smaller end of the pinecone. Snip off leaf edge to become beak and stick on with tape. Assemble the rest, including putting on your eye with the sharpie, and then do a photo shoot with your fleet of turkeys at your parents’ house. Beats a football game as a form of entertainment!

You could use these for placecard settings or for table decorations. They were such a hit!! We laughed so hard we cried at the photoshoot.