Friday, 30 September 2016

Cyanotype workshop with Ruth Brown

At the Festival of Quilts this summer, I had the pleasure of being a student rather than being a tutor.  I spent two lovely days in a class with Ruth Brown of Stone Creek Textiles learning how to cyanotype - a blue photography technique that works really well on fabric and paper.  These are some of the fabulous results.
Cyanotyping is a great way to add images onto fabric.  It was good to learn from an expert and discover how to put the cyanotype on the fabric without ending up with the downstairs loo looking like a blue slasher movie has just been filmed there.  I do seem to get in a bit of a mess.
One of the key things I learned was how well pinned down everything needs to be on the fabric before you expose it to light and you see the fabric turning from green to blue to grey.
If the fabric is not well pinned, you get a fuzzy image, which may be desirable, but you want to be able to control it yourself.
We also learnt how to turn the cyanotype from blue to yellow and brown, through soda ash and tea.  I've still to try coffee, which apparently gives a more purple-y brown.
We also discovered how to add photos by making a negative on acetate.  I also loved the random effects you can get by just scrunching up the fabric and exposing it at different times.
Ruth has a book on cyanotyping which is really comprehensive and I would definitely recommend taking a class with her.  Find out more at

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Free machine quilting of leaves with thermofax

Silver Birch leaf, on a background of free machined sari strips
Free machine quilting seems to intimidate many quilters.  It has taken on mythical proportions of difficulty and some quilters would do anything to avoid it.  I remember when I first started quilting doing everything by hand because every time I looked at the machine something seemed to go wrong.  Now, after years of practice, I don't even notice that I am free machining, it is as easy as straight stitching.
Free machining is where you lower the feed-dogs on your machine and then you control the size and direction of the stitch rather than the machine.  Like most worthwhile things in life, it just takes practice.  The more you do, the better you become.  
I'm currently making a quilt with some leaves on it and this is how I've recreated the leaves.
Silver birch leaves on the scanner
First I went into the garden and picked some silver birch leaves.  I discovered that our tree is a bit diseased and I need to look up why most of the leaves have funny spots on them.

I scanned in the leaves on the computer and then printed them off and traced the outline and some of the veins of the more interesting ones on tracing paper.  I then scanned the tracing in, printed it off on a laser printer and turned it into a thermofax screen.
Stitch'n'tear leaf, machined over
Using some textile paint, I then printed a number of leaves onto stitch and tear, which after the paint had dried I pinned onto the back of the quilt and stitched round the lines.
From the front, stitched and trimming back the excess fabric from the applique
I tried this in a number of different ways - adding fabric on the front, so it was appliqued on with the stitching as well as just the stitched outline.  
Finished leaf - stitched round once in very thick thread
The fabric was then turned over to the front and more machining added.
I'm really pleased with the effect of these and am now piecing together the quilt top to add the leaves too as the samples worked so well.

Only the outline of the leaves were stitched, then the central veins filled in with more machine stitching in different colours and types of thread

A different silver birch leaf, totally stitched in in three colours.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Textile Treasures from the Quilters' Guild

Detail of a 1930s quilt made with an astounding array of dress making fabrics
As part of the C&G Diploma in Patchwork and Quilting, you have to write an illustrated study of British Quilt History.  To help make this come alive, I've borrowed a suitcase collection of historical quilts, called Textile Treasures from the Quilters' Guild to share with my students.  It is amazing what will fit into one suitcase.  It was even more exciting when I was finally able to open it - the case was padlocked and I didn't have the combination to start with!
Visitors to the Open Day
As it was here, I thought it would nice to share with others who may be interested and so I had an Open Day last Friday.  I had no idea how many people, if any, would turn up, but in the end, even in the rotten weather, we had a lovely crowd of about 60 across the day.  The age range was 17-90 which was fantastic, most of us fascinated by textiles, with a few reluctant partners dragged along.
More visitors - isn't my studio really tidy for once!
I've now seen this collection three times and it is amazing the different insights each group has about the quilts.  It can be difficult when you first look at an old quilt to appreciate it and that is part of the beauty of having this collection here - understanding how to look at these historical textiles and learning what we can from them.
Here are some quick points we have learned:

  • some of the ugliest quilts have the most brilliant stories behind them, like this Canadian Red Cross Quilt, which was given to a family who had been bombed out three times in World War II
Canadian Red Cross Quilt
  • some of the hand-stitching is stunning, especially when it has been stitched by candle or gaslight.  And if you look closely enough, not all the shapes are as crisp as they should be.  So quilts were fudged years ago as well and we don't notice it on other people's quilts straight away, nor does it diminish our pleasure of them (there is a moral there!)
One inch hexagon quilt
  • some of these quilts have their small pieces made up from scraps or they have used mended fabric, so nothing was wasted.  I can't imagine piecing two bits of fabric to make a one inch hexagon.
  • on the other hand, some of these quilts were made from new, good fabric as you can still see the glaze on the chintz, which would have washed off if it had been laundered.  
A hexagon quilt, which has been carefully 'fussy-cut'
  • you can learn a lot about printing techniques and chemical development over time by looking at the different printed cottons used.  Green was hard to make, so blue was over-printed with yellow.  Where it didn't line up, you can see the blue and yellow still.
  • fabric doesn't last forever and decay depends on what chemicals were used to dye it.  
  • quilters have always loved the new and 'exciting'
Two North Country Quilts.  The one of the left must have been one of the earliest to use viscose rayon as the fabric
  • just because it is old does not mean it is very good - we shouldn't lose our ability to be discerning when faced with something that has been lovingly preserved over the years.  However, this is a judgement call and we all have different tastes, thank goodness.
Two more of my C&G groups still have to see the collection before I return it.  If you get the chance, I would highly recommend borrowing it and spending time with these historical objects.

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