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  • Texture #4 – Pile it on!

    Texture #4– Pile it on!

    Now for the final chapter on texture; this is Texture with a capital ‘T’.  In this chapter we will explore embellishment to add texture to your quilt/ fiber projects.

    In bygone eras, embellishment was mainly the empire of the Crazy Quilt. Most of the time it was embroidery but beads and other artifacts were sometimes added. Years ago, my guild hosted a speaker on Crazy Quilts who spoke of a Victorian era crazy Quilt that was embellished with a stuffed squirrel – yuck!

    Now, we live in the era of embellishment and there are entire magazines devoted to this art form – Embellishment (a publication from Australia) is completely devoted to embellishment and other publications such as Cloth Paper Scissors, Quilting Arts, Threads and Stampington & Co. frequently feature articles about embellishment; the art of ‘adornment’ has broken free from the world of Crazy quilts.

    Though I had played a bit with embellishment early on – my second quilt incorporated an old mink coat pieced into the pattern – my first serious ‘conscious’ exploration into texture was a friendship quilt I made from blocks from my small quilt group. I had just finished a two and a half year project overseeing and making a somewhat traditional raffle quilt for my guild, and I was rebelling against flat and square. The theme was the beach retreat we took twice a year and after piecing the blocks together into an asymmetrical arrangement, I added a ‘fringe’ of seaweed made from Dupioni Silk along the top and bottom edges and a second ‘fringe’ along just the bottom made from drilled giant Sea Urchin spines, I also knotted some fishnet from Pearl Cotton and sewed seashells all over the quilt, The Sea Urchin spines add a particularly intriguing element as they clink musically if the quilt is moved.

    A friendship quilt made from blocks made by my small quilt group. Note the ‘seaweed’ dangling along the top and bottom, the fishnet along the bottom and the fringe of sea urchin spines that tinkle like wind chimes along the bottom. The quilt is also embellished with seashells stitched here and there.

    This gave me the idea to explore the idea of quilts that make sound and my next noisemaker art quilt was a Sashiko panel along the lines of Japanese Noren (ceremonial curtains that hang in a doorway) that has lengths of Bamboo segments in a fringe along the bottom edge. This panel, that I titled ‘Zen Wind Chimes’ also makes a lovely sound when the panel is stirred by a breeze if hung in an open window.

    Sashiko Komon (clan crest) stitched on antique Japanese indigo cloth with a fringe of bamboo ‘culms’ that clink against each other if the panel wafts in a light breeze.

    The genie is out of the bottle and there’s no putting him back; though I do still make more traditional ‘flat’ quilts, I am bolder about adding 3-dimensional embellishments to my art quilts. Buttons, beads, seashells… needle lace and fabric confetti  – there is no better way to create lacy foliage to a landscape quilt than with confetti , and my Garden Window Nature Scrolls often sport berries made from beads, 3-D leaves and even some Maple samaras (the seed cases children often call ‘helicopters’) made from heavyweight painted and inked watercolor paper. I am also exploring the sea life found in a tide pool starting with my dimensional bead and embroidery Sea Anemones.

    Thinking back, at first I thought I had not really done much tree dimensional work but when I started to contemplate what images I would like to include in the post, I realize I’ve used texture in my quilts far more often than I’d imagined

    And now for some shameless self promotion: if you are interested in learning a few of these 3-D techniques, I will be offering a couple of classes upcoming over the next few months and into next year at various venues shown below.

    Cedar Ridge Quilts Button Fantasia:

    Button Fantasia – Hand embroidered medallions frame buttons on a pieced background with wool applique

    a delightful way to showcase any solitary buttons you might have left over in your sewing box or, if you are a serious antique/decorative button collector, to display your treasures.

    Ocean Waves Quilt CampTwin Rocks Landscape:

    Twin Rocks – a strip pieced/appliqued landscape featuring lacy dimensional waves

    this is my strip-pieced/appliqué landscape technique with a new twist – creating three dimensional waves on a seascape using a variety of materials such as lace or confetti.

    Cedar Ridge QuiltsEmbroidered Folk Art Ornaments: these chubby stuffed little gems are made from hand embroidery on wool and are embellished with sequins and beads. Choose a cat, a peacock or a sweet little winged elephant.TIP: They need not be made into ornaments, they can also be used in wool applique projects.

    Montavilla Sewing Center (Gresham) – Reversible Appliqué Tide Pool:

    Reversible Applique Quilt ‘Rock Stars’ the ‘other’ front side.
    Reversible Applique Quilt ‘Rock Stars’ – front side.

    yes, you read that correctly – reversible, not reverse appliqué. This easy technique makes a two sided quilt that can be displayed from either side which in a way makes it 3-D in my opinion.

    Art & Soul Retreats – I will be offering several classes at this event:

    • March 12, 2019: 3-D Fabric Pebbles:
      3-D fabric Pebbles

      These are remarkably easy to make and with the right fabrics can look astoundingly real.

    • March 15, 2019: Stumpwork Sea Anemones:
      Tide Pool quilt – Stumpwork ‘Sea Anemones’

      Often called the flowers of the sea, these creatures come in many brilliant color combinations and the texture of these embroidered and beaded projects has to be felt to be believed; they are so wonderfully tactile you can’t resist running your hand over them.

    • March 16, 2019: 3-D Fabric Leaves:
      3-D Ginko Leaf

      Wonderfully ruffled and curled, these dimensional leaves can be used to embellish quilts, purses and bags, clothing and some artists even make jewelry from them.

    I am also teaching the Stumpwork Anemones class in Florence later this August but that is a private class to a small quilt group and not open to the public,

    And finally, my Art Journal Quilt classes held at three different locations – Pioneer Quilts (the first Friday of each month), Montavilla Sewing Center (the first Wednesday of each month at the Gresham location) and Sewn Loverly (the second Friday of each month). These classes vary from month to month and are not always on some sort of 3-D embellishment but those techniques are sometimes the focus of the classes.

  • Texture #3 – Surface Tension

    Texture #3 – Surface Tension

    This was going to be my third and last installment in my ‘texture’ series however, as I started to write, it occurred to me there was yet another category of quilted texture to explore before I move onto the final chapter. This third chapter I have decided to call – Surface Tension (and I am not referring to the thread tension of a sewing machine here).

    Surface Tension is a scientific term that refers to the elasticity of a liquid that forces it to occupy the smallest surface it can, this is what confines water into a droplet or seek its own level. Water is inherently ‘sticky’ and anything that has mass but is too light in weight to break that sticky barrier will lie on that surface without falling through.  This allows lightweight insects like Water Striders to skim across the surface of a pond literally ‘walking on water’.  Likewise, something trying to rise from beneath the water’s surface has to contend with that constraint, it must be strong enough to defy gravity and break through that surface tension. Look at a close up of a Water Strider and you will see the slight weight of the creature does distort the level plane of the water where its legs touch; it’s just not heavy enough to break that surface tension as shown in the photo below.

    Attribution – By Praveenp [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

    So – what has all this to do with quilting? Think of the fabric layer that forms the quilt top as the surface layer of water, anything restrained below it like batting may press upwards in an attempt to break through that layer but is unable to do so. Rather, it causes a bulge in that surface and that is what creates the texture caused by the stitching that compresses the batting along the quilting lines, this is the batting trying to break through the surface tension of the quilt top. This is also why you don’t get nearly a nice a ‘sculpted’ texture when you appliqué with fusible web. No matter how soft the product claims to be, it still adds a layer of stiffness to the fabric that makes it resist the bulge you might otherwise get without the adhesive layer. Instead of sinking down into a depression produced by the stitching, the thread tends to lie along the surface of the fabric causing very little distortion but it is exactly that distortion that creates the lovely texture that captures light and shadow.

    One form of quilting that takes this textural distortion to a higher level (pun intended) is Trapunto. This is a method in which specific areas on a quilt are stuffed or padded to make them more prominent than the rest of the quilting, this the most effective if used on a whole-cloth quilt or in areas of negative space with no piecing, appliqué or even a busy print to interfere with the beauty of the padded quilting.

    Trapunto – Early 18th Century Italian. Attribution – Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons



    Detail – United States, 1846 Cotton and glazed chintz, pieced, quilted, stuffed and appliquéd in ‘broderie perse’ Attribution – Los Angeles County Museum of Art [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

    There are several methods for doing Trapunto; in the historic versions, the quilted shapes were actually stuffed either by slitting the back of the quilt and inserting bits of wool ‘fluff’ through the slit then sewing that shut – which left the dilemma of how to preserve the integrity of the quilt; or in some cases the threads of the backing fabric were ‘teased’ apart then bits of wool tucked into the breach and then the threads painstakingly pushed back into place – yeah – like I’m really going to do THAT! With these methods, care must be taken, the shape needs enough stuffing to fill it well and prevent shifting/compacting of the filler resulting in a wool or cotton ‘ball’ bouncing around the space but also to avoid overstuffing which can cause unsightly bulging and distortion on large shapes. If the design involved channels of parallel quilting, yarn would be threaded into the layers with a needle and then the protruding ends clipped off very close to the insertion points, there was even a version of this where a cotton cord was stitched to the underside of a fabric with a backstitch that crisscrossed behind the work and created a raised line with a better definition due to the backstitch outlining the cording on the front. This method was particularly favored in England during the Elizabethan era. It was often applied to garments such as caps and vests where the cording and dense stitching gave the item both beauty and stability.

    Los Angeles County Corded Quilting, detail of a man’s waistcoat c. 1760. Attribution – Museum of Art [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


    In contemporary times, other methods and innovations have arisen for working trapunto. John Flynn developed a Trapunto Stuffing Tube. You stuff pre-cut bits of batting into the end of the tube then slip the tube between the layered quilt and ‘inject’ the batting in place as you work your way up the quilt. Check out his You Tube video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpEro6cPfBY. His technique is better suited to quilting by hand, If you like to quilt by machine, the most commonly used method of Trapunto is to apply a preliminary layer of batting stitched to the backside of the quilt top using water soluble thread to follow the design to be padded and then trimming away the excess batting close to the stitching. The quilt is then layered with batting and backing in the normal method and then quilted along all the design lines including those previously stitched by the water soluble thread. After completion, the quilt is washed to remove the water soluble thread thus padding the areas with the double layer of batting rising above the level of the rest of the quilt. The benefit if this method is that the extra padding will remain flat with the batting less likely to ball up and shift than loose stuffing would. See this technique demonstrated at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDjw4Wo37ew

    There is a second ‘cheater’ Trapunto by machine method where the quilt is layered with a higher loft batting and after the Trapunto motifs are quilted, the surrounding areas are densely stitched to compact them. This exaggerates the puffiness of the open areas in contrast with the densely quilted areas; the work appears to be ‘double-stuffed’ but in actuality is just one layer of batting accentuated by the compacted areas. I have tried this method myself on a small artistic project and it was fairly easy to do.

    My own ‘Cheater’ Trapunto

    Technology permeates all aspects of our lives these days; it makes you wonder what innovations lie on the quilting horizon. When we remodeled a home years ago we found a product that was ‘insulation in a can’ – you inject this liquid into the open space you want insulated and the liquid expands and fills the area with a foam that hardens. I see a similar product is being used by construction companies to raise and level concrete slabs. How about a liquid batting that you could inject into a quilt that would expand into a soft spongy fill? Anyone want to take that idea and run with it?

    Look for the final chapter on texture coming soon; until then – May your stitches be short and neat, your life be long and sweet and your fabric stash be enough to keep you quilting.

  • Texture #2 – Visual vs. Physical

    In this second installment about texture, I want to explore the difference between visual and physical texture.  Visual texture relies on the designs printed on the fabric to create graphic contrast. While contrast of color and value are extremely important to define differing areas in a quilt pattern, a variety of textures ranging from fine to bold will add depth and complexity to a quilt. These ‘visual’ textures extend from fabrics that are solid or of such a fine print that it reads almost as a solid all the way to large scale bold prints.  As quilters and fabric artists, you have probably played with visual texture; it’s one of the most common considerations after color and value when assembling fabric choices for a project.

    Max’s African Veldt Quilt

    There are additional considerations when working with visual texture. You are probably all familiar with the concept of ‘fussy cutting’ a print to feature a particular motif or print design in specific parts of a quilt but what about the general use of a bold print? Many quilters don’t want to take the time to fussy cut  each part of a quilt block – plus it is wasteful, turning a piece of fabric into Swiss Cheese (unless you are a scrappy quilter that will use these less desirable parts of the fabric in a scrap quilt). Many quilters wanting to make a quilt fast and easy will opt to cut the fabric efficiently and randomly with a rotary cutter. Here is where you can run into a problem; if the print is too bold for the scale of the block pattern then you may lose the definition of the design. Examine and compare the nine patch blocks in the picture below, see how the definition of the block is lost in the example with the bolder print congruous with the size of the piece you need for you quilt or block.

    Exploring printed texture scale and application

    There are exceptions to this rule such as in Watercolor or Color-wash quilts where the strategy is to have the prints interfere with the hard pieced divisions of the squares and create a wash of color and texture that flows across the entire panel (see photo below).

    Three Jacks and a Jill – Watercolor Quilt with transitional textures.

    Physical Texture is something completely different; it is tactile. Burlap, corduroy, denim, velvet, silks … are examples of fabric with a physical texture; these fabrics can even be dyed in a solid color and still retain their physical texture.  Here’s the test – take an assortment of ‘quilters’ cottons’ in a variety of prints and spread them out. Close your eyes and run fingertips over each fabric. Other than minute variations based on thickness, quality and thread count, you will not really be able to tell one from another and you will certainly not feel any variation as regards to a fine print vs. a bold one – this is visual texture. Now spread an assortment of textural fabrics in the same manner – denim, burlap, monk’s cloth, brocade, satin, velvet, corduroy … and repeat the same tactile experiment. Unless you have no sensation in your finger nerve endings, you will be able to clearly discern the difference between a piece of velvet and a piece of burlap – this is physical texture.

    You may not be able to touch a quilt or piece of fiber art in a show or photograph but that physical texture still is apparent. The light and shadow created by the texture is visible and so is the refraction of light that reflective satiny or napped fabrics create (see image below).

    Woven Textures – mini quilt made from quilters’ cotton, satin, cotton velvet and coarse even-weave linen

    I once saw some quilted panels made by a fiber artist working with velvet in a single color where he had oriented the nap of the fabric in ways to catch and refract the light; this created light and dark parts of the design that shifted depending on the angle the panel was viewed from; I wish I could remember his name.

    Working with textured fabrics does have a downside. Contrast of texture is a key factor to the rich beauty of these fabrics and that means you will often be sewing fabrics of unequal weights together which can be problematic. Add the fact that many of these fabrics may fray excessively (requiring wider seam allowances) and that some fabrics like velvet and corduroy have a tendency to ‘creep’ making accurate piecing a challenge, and you have your work cut out for you. The results are worth it though.

    Appliqué artist Martha Mood was a master at creating what she called tapestries using a variety of fabric textures that she enhanced with hand embroidery. To see an assortment of her stunning work, Google the terms ‘Martha Mood Tapestries Images’.

    The book cover shows a fine example of Martha’s unique style

    Next time, we will explore three dimensional embellishments in the third and final series on texture.