Wonk Out

Textiles have memory and can also take on new memory and shape.  How we handle textiles, stitching by hand or machine, cutting straight, curvilinear or on the bias (diagonal), sewing curves, surface embroidery, and quilting all disrupt the weave of fabric.

This particular quilt began with a piece of white cotton fabric hand dyed and backed with cotton batting and a muslin quilt back. If I’m not hand sewing, the cotton batting works fine for machine sewing.

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I quilted an overall pattern in a medium teal Metrosene thread and then began to add thread painting with shades of silver, graphite, burnt sienna, gold, black and bronze rayon embroidery threads. I added the top grey and bottom rust sections after the majority of the thread painting was underway.
Then the final quilting helped to flatten out the lumpy bumpy hillocks and creases left from heavy but uneven thread painting. Still wonky and now only a series of gentle rolling bumps and lumps the last step is to block before finishing.  Photo below shows some of the warping that happens to fabrics that are stressed.

bumps and hillocks from quilting and thread painting

 

Before binding, the quilt will be dampened and blocked to de-stress the fibers and give it the shape I want it to have.

For smaller textile projects I use a blocking grid sold at Knit Picks.

foam blocking tiles

 

standard t-pins

 

putting blocks together

 

t-pins

The blocks are an interlocking grid that can be used many times over. 9 foam blocks come in a pack and can be put together in many configurations. You can purchase double or triple sets if you need them for larger projects. These have a small footprint for storage and last for years. I know you can use large inexpensive insulation board or even a carpet. The insulation board comes in 8′ sheets and a carpet would need to be rolled up for storage. I don’t have that kind of extra room to store bulky objects in my studio. At $24.99 they are a good deal and they store on a shelf.

You’ll need the following:

Blocking grid or mat

T-pins (rust proof stainless)

Spray bottle filled with fresh clean water

I put enough blocks together to make the grid fit the quilt in this case 4 sections work.

Placing the quilt face down I spray generously with water and smooth it out with my hands. I flip the quilt over squarely in the center of the grid and spray the top with water. It should be damp but not soaking wet.

Next the pinning begins. Starting at the center of the top, taking a t-pin, I press it at an angle through the quilt edge into the foam block.

 

t-pin in center

 

final push

I continue to place a t-pin at each center point along each side–while gently stretching the quilt and smoothing it. Then push a t-pin 3″-4″ apart on each side of the center pins. Again, I gently smooth and stretch the fabric as I go. Repeat on each side until the quilt is fully but gently stretched. See the photo below – pins evenly spaced and sides of quilt look wonky. They will be trimmed after drying.

pinned, damp and ready to dry

My home is very dry and if I do this at night by morning the quilt will be dry and flat. The next step will be to trim to the size I like and bind if desired.

Below is the next day – flat and free from ripples:

Note: I do not use an iron or steam unless it is absolutely necessary. I use a mixture of fibers and a hot iron could negatively affect delicate threads or fabrics with a hot iron set on cotton and would flatten the beautiful quilting textures. I also don’t use measuring guides. These are handmade, work of art and meant to meander and have shape and texture. I am not looking for perfection, but want it to hang crisply and neatly.

The Calyx Eye

When machine stitching I end up with a lot of extra threads on the front surface of the fabric. Its commonplace and happens to everyone. I’m often asked how to resolve this problem. You could choose to snip them closely but the ends fuzz up and look mussed. Instead of snipping I choose to pull them through to the back. When presented with thread ends too short to pass through a needle eye the solution is an easy to thread needle.
 

Once I started to use the calyx eye needle it became my preferred choice for all thread pulling. 

The Calyx Eye needle provides the best solution. 

The Calyx Eye Needle

This needle is commonly known as an easy threading needle. It is made with a small slit above the eye so you can pull the thread through the top. By inserting the needle in the fabric first you can pull the thread through to the back with ease. See the step-by-step tutorial below. 

 

Right side of fabric with excess threads

 
The Calyx Eye Needle
  

Choose a thread that needs to be pulled to the back:

  

Insert the calyx eye needle as close as possible to where the thread comes out of the fabric. 

  
  
Pull thread firmly down into the eye.

 

Push the needle through to the back: pulling the thread through with it.   

Repeat until all the excess threads are pulled through to the wrong side of fabric. 

Wrong side with all threads pulled through

Once finished the right side looks smooth without clipped threads. 

 

Right side completed
  
  

Found. In my hand. 

Lately I’ve been admiring reverse appliqué and thought it might work for a piece of fiber art I am planning.
You see this piece of fiber art exists loosely in my mind, it sort of has a little film attached to it that I play often. The colors change. The fabrics change. But the foundation of the work is essentially the same. It consists of many modular pieces that are similar in size and hue. The black square below is an example.

 

reverse applique batik example

I’m eager to get the work started and get the film in my head into real world action. This Saturday past I started playing with reverse appliqué sewing. After several pieces were finished the results were different than expected.

About midnight – my creative witching moment happened. Cleaning up the perle cottons and re-organizing threads, dropping scissors into their cases, needles neatly arranged in the drawer…I passed by the stack of recently completed art quilt studies.

recently completed Pennsylvania farmland art quilts

The studies are of my beloved Pennsylvania farmlands which are rapidly disappearing.
New housing and commercial structures are chowing down the land for 3 solid meals daily.

I know this land. Its of my people, my youth, my later adulthood. I’ve come back to the gentle hills that my grandfather held in reverence.

No reference photos are needed. I’ve walked the dusty dirt roads by the farms with my dogs, rode my horses through the brown-green-gold fields, tilled the ground with my hands to plant native species and cut flower gardens. Moonlit nights resplendent with fireflies, moths and bats while seated behind the farmhouse in the deep of night are treasured moments for me.

As I passed by the studies I saw the round shape I have been slow stitching for weeks.

dark of the new moon

 

The familiar round moons or suns  are exactly what I’ve been planning but I couldn’t know that. Instead of the reverse appliqué, this embroidered style that has been my meditative practice for weeks is it!

The search over, the technique was in my hands all along.

sunny hillside