Sunday, October 29, 2006

The New Face of Machine Quilting

I've been quilting like a madman for the last few weeks. For the first time this fall, I've really got into the rhythm of it, when you get to work with the machine and it's all you want to do for the next couple of hours. Very soothing.

Since I've been getting pretty confident about my new machine quilting skillz -- hubris? -- the project that has been getting the most attention has been this thing called "Batik Boxes" that I planned out on Thanksgiving 2004 and have been kicking around very slowly ever since. It was pretty obvious from the outset that it wasn't going to be an especially interesting piece, so it has stayed at the bottom of the project pile.

Since it is kinda ugly, though, it is a good candidate to be the first full-size piece for me to machine quilt. So, I devoted 3/4 of my quilting time to it over the last week, and voila, here is the completed face:

Now I have to decide exactly what the quilting pattern will be. As I get more comfortable and confident, I think I'm going to really like this part of the process -- it's a whole 'nuther level of decision making going into the piece.

For now, though, it's kind of nerve wracking. Even though it's kind of an ugly quilt face to start with, even though I'm trying to give myself lots of space to make mistakes and be a beginner at this, I also definitely want to do a good job with it. Ideally, to have people say things like "wow, I can't believe he's just a beginner." Yes, I admit it: my name is Michael and I'm a praise junky.

Anyway, I know a couple things for sure. I will quilt "in the ditch" -- along the seam between pieces of fabric in the quilt face -- around the outline of each block, and then around the three concentric squares within each block. After that, I want to do dense stippling, the kind of stuff I've been practicing for the past several weeks, on one color or the other. That should create an overall texture. If I was to densely quilt the blue fabric, say, the blue squares would lie flat and the orange ones would puff up a little bit. It be a cool effect, or at least that's the plan.

Now, Plan A was to stipple down the blue fabric. Warm colors tend to rise into the foreground, whereas cool colors visually recede, so it seemed like having the orange puff out a little bit would complement that. To test this, I made two extra blocks, quilting down the blue on one and the orange on the other. And, lo and behold, the one with the orange quilted down looks better.

But wait, we're not through. We still have to talk about thread color. (Hey! I don't roll my eyes about your hobby!!)

If you look at the test patch with quilting in the orange, the part that really stands out is done in light grey thread on the right side of this image. And I'm all right with that, because I was doing pretty well and the pattern looks cool. But the problem is, I think the quilt as a whole will look better if the quilting is more subtle. In fact, I'm leaning towards using an orange thread that is more subtle -- so subtle, in fact, that it's almost invisible in this image (it's along the top of the larger orange square).

Usually, you wouldn't call orange thread "more subtle" than grey. The deal is that in this case it would blend with the orange fabric, of course.

Anyway, it will take me a couple of weeks to do all of the ditch quilting, which has to be done before I can start the quilting, so if any of y'all want to weigh in on the gray vs. orange question, knock yourself out.

Oh yeah, a fresh anecdote. I was pinning this one out (pinning the back, batting, and face together, to get it ready for quilting) and ran out of safety pins. Because it's close, and I'm all, like, neighborhood-minded, I decided to try again with the local shop where they mistook me for a plumber last year. And, damn it, I got the same suspicious, what-are-you-doing-in-here vibe this time. "You just had to have a pack of safety pins at 10:15 on a Saturday morning?" I got asked, which struck me as both unnecessarily sarcastic and an odd question for someone to ask who was selling safety pins at 10:15 on a Saturday morning. I want to like my local shop, but I'm just not getting a good vibe in there.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

More Masculine Machine Messing-About

My Machine Quilting teacher told us we should keep an eye open for potential quilting patterns in the stuff we see in everyday life. So, when I saw the linguistic symbols on the cover of this book, I decided to give it a try.

What I did was photocopy the cover of the book, enlarging the pattern a little bit. Then, I pinned the piece of paper on top of the practice quilt top. You can just sew right through the paper, so after you follow the outline of the pattern, you end up with a quilt that has a piece of paper sewn to it. The paper tears off pretty easily, since it's been perforated by the needle, but it is kinda boring and time-consuming to get rid of it all. On this little practice piece, I spent as much time getting rid of paper as I did in the actual quilting. Looks kinda cool, though. I think I'm getting better.

I want to throw something in here that is not explicitly quilt-related, but maybe it's tangentially relevant to this blog. You be the judge. It is a quote from Nick Hornsby's excellent book Fever Pitch, a memoir of his obsession with soccer and, in particular, the Arsenal club. Highbury, I should mention, is the stadium in London where Arsenal play.

Masculinity has somehow acquired a more specific, less abstract meaning than femininity. Many people seem to regard femininity as a quality; but according to a large number of both men and women, masculinity is a shared set of assumptions and values that men can either accept or reject. You like football? Then you also like soul music, beer, thumping people, grab¬bing ladies' breasts, and money. You don't fit into either camp? Macho, nein danke? In which case it must follow that you're a pacifist vegetarian, studiously oblivious to the charms of Michelle Pfeiffer, who thinks that only leering wideboys listen to Luther Vandross.

It's easy to forget that we can pick and choose. Theoretically it is possible to like football, soul music and beer, for example, but to abhor breast-grabbing and bottom-pinching (or, one has to concede, vice versa); one can admire Muriel Spark and Bryan Robson. Interestingly it is men who seem to be more aware than women of the opportunities for mix 'n' match: a femist colleague of mine literally refused to believe that I watched Arsenal, a disbelief that apparently had its roots in the fact that we had once had a conversation about a feminist novel. How could I possibly have read the book and have been to Highbury? Tell a thinking woman that you like football and you're in for a pretty sobering glimpse of the female conception of the male.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Adventures in Machine Quilting

As it turned out, there's only so much flack I could have been given about my wussy pink & mint green test quilt for the machine quilting class. That's because there was only one student in the class besides me. So, the drive out to Damascus every Tuesday for three weeks didn't turn out to be a real community-builder, but what the hell. I certainly learned a lot about machine quilting, and probably more importantly was forced to practice.

Here's what that quilt top looked like after the dust settled:

Yeah, I know it's not particularly attractive. But it's the techniques that matter, and I'm kind of excited about those. Some, like the rose in the center and the ferny thing in the upper left, use tracing paper; the pattern in the border and the leaf on the upper right corner both use freezer paper. The really precise grid is made using blue painters' tape, of all things, which I quickly bought in every available width from the neighborhood painting supply store. I like precise grids. Controlling personality.

Now that football season is in full swing and Sue and I have finished up a guest room remodeling project that sucked all energy out of every other endeavor -- even, gentle reader, this blog -- for weeks, I've had two Saturday afternoons straight to work on quilt things. I've done a lot of assembly piecing on the Labyrinth, but I also spent some time assembling "sandwitches" out of old, crappy fabric -- including the sheets I bought for my first apartment in Kansas! -- and small pieces of scrap batting that I've been saving like an octogenarian recluse for the last decade. (It is a little troubling that this hoarding behavior was ultimately justified and rewarded).

The point of the sandwitches is just to have them on hand so you can regularly practice machine quilting technique. In theory, it will eventually start to feel natural -- and that's actually happening, a little bit. On Wednesday, I even had a glimmer of an idea that I could eventually get pretty good at it. In the meantime, I plug away at creating lovely masterworks like the following.....

Sue describes the flower as "hippilicious," which will have to do for a beginner.

That's all for now! Thanks for reading!