Friday, December 20, 2013

It's a Wrap

No...not the quilt. I wish! This week has been only slightly productive for the free-motion garrison quilt. Progress amounted to tacking down the tree foliage and pinning up a sheet of parchment paper to draw patterns for the tree shadows.

However, things have been quite productive in the quilting studio itself. That's because it has become Gift Wrap Central.

After all, it's the perfect space--the cutting table is just the right height to wrap presents, and scissors and tape are always at hand. Add to that, the rolls of gift wrap, gift bags, bows and ribbons just happen to reside year-round right inside that little attic door in the first photo. So it only made sense not to haul all of that downstairs, as we'd had to do in the past, to the dining room table, where you are guaranteed a backache after only a few minutes of wrapping. (Granted, we did have to haul the gift items upstairs to wrap and then back down again to place under the tree. backaches!)

Making progress with the decorating. Now for the food.

Hooking up with Sarah at Whoop Whoop Fridays (she has accomplished far more quilting than I did this week!). And with Leah Day's FMQ Friday, where she's letting us link up with whatever we are doing these next two weeks, including holiday preparations--thank you, Leah!

Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate it, happy holidays to all who celebrate in other ways, and a wonderful week to everyone in general!


Friday, December 13, 2013

Aye, There's the Shrub

This week involved a different sort of detailing on the free-motion garrison quilt.

Realizing that the ground under the trees looks a bit too neat for nature (I doubt there was ever lawn care in any natural forest, much less in Medieval times), I decided to put some brambles--wild shrubbery--in two or three places. Not enough to clutter the scene, but just to roughen it up a little.

Time to take Alison Holt's Machine Embroidered Woodlands off my bookshelf again.

On pages 40-41 of this wonderful thread-painting book, she teaches how to machine-embroider bare trees for distant scenery. I first tried her method for the foreground of my free-motion quilt, New England Dawn, using it for shrubbery instead of distant trees:

New England Dawn, 2012

It went well, but, oh, how very scary it was to make the first shrub. The reason? This is free-motion stitching on a whole other level (or maybe I should say 'hole' other level, to be explained in a moment). For the first time in my life, I was sewing on...nothing. That's right, nothing. No fabric, no stabilizer, no netting, no anything....just air. It made me think of free-falling with no parachute. Here's why.

You start with a piece of muslin in an 8-inch hoop (hoop inside-up). Then you cut a 4-inch hole in the center of the muslin. That's right, a hole. Do you see where this is going?

Then you stretch the fabric tautly all around and screw the hoop tight. The hole will be another 3/4 inch or so larger in diameter now. Believe it or not, that's a good thing.

Then, with your feed dogs down (or up with 0 stitch length and a slippery mat over the machine bed), you slowly and steadily move the hoop while free-motion stitching straight lines in a fan shape from one side of the muslin to the other and back, stitching well into the muslin before returning to the starting point. The starting point will shift a little each time--after all, you can't keep hitting the needle on that same exact spot without eventually breaking it or your thread.

As long as your tension is well-balanced, it's amazing how seldom, if ever, the thread knots or breaks while stitching across the hole. (Always do a test first and make tension adjustments if needed.) If the thread does break, no big deal. Just cut the broken thread back to where it stops unraveling and start that line of stitching over. But don't start in the middle of the hole. Always begin at your starting point. I once started in the middle of the hole and broke my needle. (I still don't know how that happened but you can be sure I won't try it again.)

Next, change to a medium-wide zigzag stitch. (You're still free-motion stitching, so the stitch length stays at 0 if your feed dogs are up, under the mat.) Now, start zigzagging, fairly closely, up your straight-stitched lines and watch what happens:

Like magic, the zigzag stitching automatically grabs several straight-stitched lines at a time and gathers them together. These become your tree trunks, or in the case of a shrub, your main branches. (If you miss a stray strand, you can backtrack and pick it up.) Now, this is important: as you stitch across the hole, gradually narrow your zigzag width. (This may take some practice, and is a little easier to do with a dial than with a digital selector.) You won't be able to keep the strands together all the way to the other side; they will automatically start separating again, and that's good. You want your upper branches to look more twiggy anyway. Then stitch back to the beginning, going from narrow zigzag back to wider zigzag, and begin with the next group of strands.

When the trunks are finished, switch back to straight stitch. (This next part is even more fun that the last--yes, you should be having fun by now! :) Stitch up one of the main branches a bit and then start crossing over all of them, back and forth, willy-nilly, at angles (see next photo).

(Here I've finished all my criss-crossing and am heading around the muslin border back down to my starting point.)

Now, switch back to your medium-wide zigzag and head up the first trunk. When you come to those crossed threads, angle out and start bringing some of them together the same way you did the trunks, narrowing your stitch width as you head toward the top of the trees/shrub. Again, the zigzag will pick up strands without much effort on your part, and if it misses any you want included, just stitch backward and then shift a bit to pick them up before moving along again. (It won't hurt to leave an occasional branch separate, as long as it's attached at both ends to other branches or trunks. You might want to strengthen it a bit with a narrow zigzag, though.)

Work as many branches and as much thickness or width anywhere you think it's needed. Then zigzag back over a trunk to your starting point.

Next, run some zigzag stitches sideways across the base of all your trunks, over the open space--not on the muslin, which you'll be cutting away. This last step ties the trunks together and keeps them from curling up on the ends after they're cut free.

Time to break thread!

And now you get to cut the trees/shrub out of the muslin! Don't be shy. Cut right through the threads, following the edge of the muslin circle (see below). The threads will contract a bit but they will not unravel--except at the tips, which only looks more natural.

Notice I forgot to tie my trunks together over the hole--I did it on the muslin! So to fix the problem, I simply cut out that little bit of muslin along with the shrub, trimming it closely, and then blacked out the white areas with a Sharpie marker. Cheating is allowed if it works. ;)

Now you can couch the trees/shrub by machine or by hand to your quilt. Cover the ugly base (let's face it, mine's a mess) with a section of grass or whatever is in that area of your quilt, and sew it down. Here's another one, pinned to the quilt for auditioning:

Actually, I made three of them this time, each with a different variegated top thread but keeping only one variegated thread in the bobbin for all. What's cool about this is you can reverse the trees/shrub if you want, and if the bobbin thread was different from the top, obviously you'll have another color choice in that same piece of embroidery.

Also, who says you have to leave these bare? You can add leaves or flowers, either with bits of fabric or by embroidering on the shrubs/trees after they're attached to your quilt. But I've come to love the skeletal structure of bare trees, as well as dead ones, which I used to think were bleak and depressing. No more. Every one of them has such character and is beautiful in its own way, and no two are alike. Which reminds me: no two of these embroidered trees/shrubs will ever end up alike, either. Which makes them all the more natural-looking.

Again, this project came from Alison Holt's wonderful book, Machine Embroidered Woodlands. It includes tons of machine-embroidery ideas and instructions, and plenty of photos. Her work is extraordinary and inspiring, so it's a joy just turning the pages.

Time to sign off and get some Christmas prep done. Hooking up here with Leah Day's FMQ Friday with her wonderful reader links, as well as Sarah Craig's Whoop Whoop Friday post and her many inspiring reader hookups. Here's hoping Leah goes through with her idea to make a king-sized bed quilt on a regular sewing machine in 2014...I would love to follow that! Sarah has just finished a gorgeous quilt and is sharing photos.

Have a great weekend, and for those of you experiencing single-digit temps, stay warm!


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Turkeys and Trees

The last couple of weeks have zoomed by, what with two wonderful Thanksgiving celebrations, including a trip out of town. Only a few hours were spent in the studio. But before getting to that, I just have to do a little bragging. This is a photo of my daughter-in-law Shannon's first turkey ever...

I know...hard to believe she hasn't been doing this for twenty years, isn't it? And it tasted even better than it looks! I guess it goes without saying, she is an incredibly good cook! She even brined this bird--something I've never attempted in my nearly 40 years of cooking these big guys. Success (revenge), by the way, was particularly sweet for Shannon. Chased by a wild turkey when she was a little girl, she has naturally been terrified of them ever since. Let's face it: regardless of how good they taste, they're huge and fast and have mean eyes and sharp beaks. Not something you want pursuing you, especially as a kid!

On to the free-motion garrison quilt, currently in one of its embellishment stages. Once again, Marvy fabric markers played a big part, along with a couple of Sharpies. Compare the next two sets of photos to see the difference in the trees, so far. I say 'so far' because quilting is going to add tons of texture; the markers only add shading. And if you don't think this is fun, just try it! You may soon be wishing the marker police were standing over your shoulder, because it's really easy to go overboard while shading with markers (ask me how I know). Every few seconds, I forced myself to stand back and take a hard look before adding more.

'Befores' are on the left, 'afters' on the right:

That's it for now...except, I just remembered a certain fabric I have in my stash. My mischievous side--believe me, I have one--says maybe I should include this in a quilt for Shannon someday... ;))) 

...although, she might just throw it onto the fire!...and who could blame her? Which just goes to show, there's more than one way to roast a turkey!  :D

Hooking up here with Leah Day's FMQ Friday with and Sarah Craig's Whoop Whoop Friday (it's time for me to make new stockings!) even if I did post two days early. ;) Love these two blogs, and their reader hookups.

Have a great weekend. We're hunkering down here for snow and ice!