Sunday, 27 May 2012

Free machining - any tips?

 I had a lovely email yesterday from someone wanting to know if I had any tips for free machining.

Well, I'm afraid, I probably don't!  All I can do is tell you how I do things and maybe that might help?

Left is the front of a postcard I've machined this morning and underneath is the back which probably shows the stitching a little better.


As you can see, I don't go in for perfectly  immaculate lines and edges as I think it gives a more arty look if you can relax slightly.  That's not to say I approve of slapdash!

First of all experiment with your machine to see what it will do.  Dig out the instructions from wherever you've hidden them and see what it suggests.

As all machines are different, I won't go into different ones here.  I have a Pfaff and a Bernina.  I keep the Bernina (a recent purchase, an entry level, the 1008, just for free machining. The Pfaff * I keep for seams .

(*I find that I sometimes need to loosen the top tension to 2 on the Pfaff depending on the thread.)

 I use a 12 or sometimes a 14 needle and replace it often. An embroidery or general use needle is fine.

Relax. Breathe. Put the shoulders down. Drink a glass of wine if it helps.  (I don't recommend more than 1 glass though - see "slapdash" above!)

Make sure your quilt is as flat as humanly possible.  I prefer to baste mine with safety pins and put lots in.  Do not pull on the quilt, but keep it bunched up around the needle so it will feed through without strain.
Bring the top thread up from underneath, and make 3 stitches into the same hole to secure the stitch.

Away you go.  Take it slowly. I'm not a fan of fast and furious.  If necessary do it stitch by stitch until you get the hang of it.  Draw in pencil lines if you're not up to straight lines.  Patterns don't need lines, but hey, no ones looking. Do what you need to do.

Practice first.  Even if I've only been away from the machine for a couple of hours, I still need a few seconds for my eye and brain to get themselves together.  If you don't want to use a practise piece, start somewhere where it won't matter too much - on the bit at the edge that's going to be cut off etc.

It really is just a matter of controlling the speed. The speed of the needle and the speed your hands move, control the size of the stitch.  Again, relax. Go slowly.

Once you're up and moving, do as much as you can without finishing off - ie go over a line already stitched to get to somewhere else.  It saves an awful lot of ends (nb much easier to finish off ends as you go rather than save them for the end)

Don't forget I always paint over my stitches so don't have to worry too much about colour changes. My stitching isn't there to be looked at in detail, but to add a layer of meaning to a quilt which is going to be painted.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Teapot and key


I've been stitching myself a teapot for my bookshelves this morning.  My youngest daughter brought me back this beautiful teapot as a Christmas present, from Hong Kong.

Below it on the shelf you can see a key stitched in outline.  This is the only interesting key I have (plenty of Yale and boring double glazing keys of course) and it's in my collection of small and interesting things.

Laura Kemshall does excellent things with keys, both printing fabric and stitching them into her work; it's a recurring theme.  Keep your eyes open on the Sixandfriends blog.  I love keys too and the one above is going to be the key to someone's heart.....not sure just yet how I'm going to symbolise that one!

I'm also working (as we speak, one hand on the keyboard, the other on the iron!) on a postcard which will be pinned to the shelf and which says: "Your courage, Your cheerfulness, Your resolution, Will Bring Us Victory."  Of course it will :)

Oh, and just peeping out next to the collected Jane Austen novels, is The Joy of Sex!

Friday, 25 May 2012


Apologies for the long silence - I've been doing just about everything except sewing, but I really must crack on. This posting is me telling me just that!!

I had an exciting day on Tuesday, having gone to Buckingham Palace to a garden party with my 3 gardening chums;  it's taking me a few days to get into work mode again - that, and the fact that the sun is shining here in England at last. We've been out and about in our little MX5, buzzing round the B roads of Britain looking at gardens and having tea and cake. Bliss, absolute bliss.

The photo is of the rhododendron in my small back garden.



 For your amusement, this is me dressed in my Sunday best.



Below: some inspiring photos. I love the portrait of the island in the head of the man.  Perhaps he's dreaming about lost youth?? What a fantastic idea to take a bit further. Unfortunately I don't remember where the photo came from, but it's probably from the Artodyssey Blog (link on sidebar).

 This is the bookcase in the library of Baddesley Clinton house near to where we live.  I've been looking at how books are made. I'd really like to do a bookbinding course one day.
 I loved this idea too.
 Keys on the table at Baddesley Clinton.  I'd like keys hanging from my bookshelves - I'd like to make a symbolic key ring of some kind too.
 This is some of the Chinese wallpaper at Chatsworth House.

I didn't realize that they filled in the difficult bits and spaces round furniture, with birds and animals which they'd cut out and stuck on - it was very well done; I gazed for ages and couldn't spot any edges or glue.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Making the background interesting

 I've decided to have bookshelves in the background of this quilt. 

Lots of peeps on FB have given me wonderful ideas and I have been able to combine these with some of my own.  It's enormous fun stitching them all prior to painting.  There will also be keys, a birthday card to Granny, a little plaque saying "Beware Grumpy Woman At Work" and little scraps of paper etc.




The quilt she's got on the machine will be Life 2 which will be hanging at the same exhibition; I thought it might be fun to show work in progress as it were!

The books are placed in odd ways. You might not notice at first, but for example, I have put a book on Herbs next to a 17th century book on Witchcraft; Delia's Complete Cookery Course next to a book on Poisons and Antedotes, Breastfeeding next to the Store Cupboard Cookbook, Art Quilts in 2012 next to Greer's Female Eunoch, the Guide to Childbirth next to Life of a Geisha, and finally at the moment, a personal fave, Dante's Inferno next to Electrical DIY for Women.  Can't help sneaking a tiny bit of  humour in there to match the slippers.


Sunday, 13 May 2012

What I know about acrylic paint.

Since writing this post yesterday, the stats counter has gone nuts. Iguess it's a subject that interests a lot of people.  Because of this, I'm adding an update: Windsor and Newton wrote to me this morning and said
  Thank you for your enquiry. You are perfectly correct that acrylic will not rot fabric and I am sure that the confusion is that people are getting mixed up with oil colour—that will rot fabric. Most fabric paints are acrylic based and you can safely continue to use the product as you do without fear of rotting.



You might have read the comments yesterday about the use of acrylic paint on fabric.  I thought I'd just share my thoughts on why I do what I do, and the way I do it. It's a personal view but is formed after reading about the paints and talking to manufacturers and it's for you to make your own decisions - of course!


Do I need to Gesso?

The old fashioned proper gesso used as a ground for oil painting was a mixture of rabbit skin glue, gypsum, marble dust, and titanium dioxide.  It is far too brittle to be used with fabric supports (ie a quilt!  It would simply flake off the first time the quilt was rolled or folded.)  It was used as a primer for oil painting.  Modern gesso isn't gesso.  It's an acrylic polymer primer invented about 50 years ago and is simply acrylic paint with calcium. It is used to smooth the surface, and seal it.  (it was apparently an early marketing ploy to call it gesso so that it would appeal to traditional oil painters, which can be a bit confusing)


Whether or not you prime canvas or cotton fabrics is entirely a matter of choice rather than a prerequisite to painting.  It depends on what look you're trying to achieve. "Acrylic paint itself will effectively seal porous surfaces, so there is no need to prime it if the desired effect is one that incorporates the character of the material" (Rheni Gauchid: The New Acrylics, and Nancy Reyner: Acrylic Revolution)


(It can be used as a glue as is therefore ace in mixed media art on fabric, but beware, if you use other types of media such as markal sticks which are oil based, you need to know that these can cause rot.  It's not the acrylic but the linseed oil or other media.) Always use oil based products on top of the acrylic paint and not the other way around.

Acrylic paint


Acrylic paint dries quickly and is permanent once dry. It is colourfast and relatively flexible and ideal for using on fabric.  If you can't get fabric paint I have found acrylic paint to be a brilliant stand in. Many fabric paints are simply acrylic paint with an additional fabric medium to keep the fabric soft after painting. It needs to be fixed with heat because of this medium. Acrylic paint doesn't need to be fixed in any way. 


What is acrylic paint?


All paint is pigment mixed with something to make it stick to whatever you're painting on.  Pure pigment would "fall" off.  

Acrylic paint is adhesive to all sorts of surfaces including fabrics. It seals making it impervious to liquid (but of course, on a quilt,  liquids can still get into the back  and this will cause rot through mildew - this has nothing to do with the acrylic paint, and everything to do with how a quilt is stored.)  


How does it work? 

Acrylics are made up of three elements, a polymer emulsion, colour, and various other elements depending on the type of paint you use.  They can include a type of anti freeze, surfactant, biocide, fungicide, thickener, defoamer, and PH stabilizer. Harsh, dangerous??? Well strange as it sounds, no!


"Acrylics dry through a continuous chemical reaction. They continue to dry indefinitely whilst in contact with air.  Acrylic polymers are fully formed in the wet emulsion and the pigment is suspended in this liquid.  As the paint dries, all of the volatile solvents in the paint evaporate from the film and through the substrate by capillary action. "


"As the water exits the film, the acrylic polymers drift closer to each other and form bonds fixing the pigment particles.  The other solvents evaporate at a slower rate but they do go completely (hours/days/weeks, depending on the thickness of the paint". (If you use if as I do, then it's very quick indeed) When these elements have gone, the polymers form a honeycombe grid welding themselves to the fabric.   The resulting film is very flexible and tough and will not yellow over time and is UV resistant.


Buy the best you can. Always use artists quality as you have a higher degree of pigments to mixers. Some of the very cheap acrylics have a lot of binder to pigment, and I suspect a few unsavoury ingredients as well - but that's just me speculating!  

Liquid acrylics, and acrylic inks are especially good on fabric, but I use artists quality buttery textured paint, simply because it's what I already have in the studio.


If you're unsure, then of course you need to do more research yourself, but try to find out by writing to manufacturers who can explain the chemistry better than I can.  


I don't have the arrogance to think that my quilts will be handed down through history. In all honesty, their life is limited to the length of mine, so longevity is not a prime concern - but I do feel that acrylics will last longer, and actually help preserve the cloth longer, than other media or indeed any fabric exposed to ordinary light and air.


Saturday, 12 May 2012

Process photos for painting the quilt which is on the quilt.

 The quilt you saw on the last posting, has been tacked in place.  It's then free machined to shadow quilt the shapes.

Extra stitching was added to give depth and solidity to the area behind her lower back and bum.

Below: The first few coats of paint.  I use acrylic paint and build up washes.  There are no easy answers to the question I'm often asked which is "how".  You just keep plugging away until you get the effect you want.

The quilt is absorbent so it takes layers of paint and sometimes I let these dry between coats and sometimes I don't.  I don't use gel or gesso, I don't mix anything with the paint except water.  I like the effect but you need patience.
This is mid-stage and there's more to be done, but I thought you might like to see it stage by stage, because your eyes can't make sense of the piecing on it's own; all those odd random shapes!

It also helps me enormously because by putting up a photo, I can get a better picture of what needs to be done. It kind of gives me distance and a clarified view.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Can you tell what it is yet???

No, it probably looks a little strange. It's the front and back of some paper piecing just finished for Life 4.  It has to be put into position and then painted.  The paint will help make sense of the shapes.





I have to be honest, and say that I'm rather fed up of doing this particular patchwork quilt, but I don't own any others!!  (If needs be I think I could construct an identical bed quilt whilst actually asleep underneath it!!)    Pass the Curly Wurlys, I'm off to celebrate.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Still Alive!

Just to let you know that I'm still here and working hard.  I've got to the boring fiddly bit on the next life quilt, which involves lots of paper piecing. It takes a while to get through and there's not much to show yet for my efforts. Another few days should do it though.

I'm not quite sure I understand the haiku on the left - perhaps it's lost in the translation, but I LOVED the piccy.

I also have the necessary to do another 2 life quilts.

Here's a tiny snippet of the pose for the one called "Shall I Be Mother?" based on life as a Geisha. Can't wait to start (It'll be for the Orientation exhibition) and will make number 6 in the series. I love the tones on this one.

I hope to do at least 10 "Life Stories," before a change of track.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012