Rhonda Blasingame’s Thread Painting Class

As I signed up for this class, I remembered a day-long class my friend Paramjeet Bawa did one March in her bright-with-natural-light basement, hours of instruction, a little bit of several techniques. I remember thread painting a tree – my first experience using zig-zag in quilting. The best part of that class was crossing the boundaries, stepping outside the rules; Paramjeet encouraged us to TRY NEW THINGS and not to be afraid of failure.

Rhonda Blasingame has the same grin; you can tell that she is never happier than when she is ‘working,’ and that she loves her work so much that much of it is play. She will jump into anything, and isn’t afraid to fail in search of something that will work.

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Sometimes when you take one of these classes, you learn something about yourself that you didn’t know. I learned that I don’t like branching out of colors I think go together. I didn’t know this! Rhonda looked at a piece I was ‘painting’ and suggested a color I would never have chosen. When I tried it, it was OK, but there is something in me that did not want that color there.

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What was very cool was that I saw beginners take what she had taught them and run with it. I could see the delight on their faces as they went beyond, as they added colors and ended up with a great product.

I admire Rhonda for her technical knowledge – and her ability to jump beyond. I love the way she sees things differently. I love the way she prevailed over our circumstances – we were in a indifferently lit room and – on one of the hottest days of summer – the air conditioner was struggling, and failing. We were a hot mess, but Rhonda soldiered on, and we learned.

Another cool thing about these classes, for people like me who are lacking creativity in some areas, was that I saw the lady next to me using a shiny lavender that looked metallic; it reminded me how much I liked silver, so I tried thread painting with a metallic and love the way it looks. I know Rhonda could take it to another level entirely, but knowing my own limitations, I am delighted with how this part is turning out.

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Cindy Needham Workshops

In the midst of a crazy schedule full of house guests, I had signed up for two workshops with Cindy Needham, workshops I wanted to attend so badly that I abandoned my house guests to their own devices and attended.

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The first, on Antique Linens, showed many many ways of taking fragile old linens, cleaning them up, stabilizing them and underlining them to show them off to their best advantage. It was worth every minute.

The second workshop, another all day affair, was on Antique Feathers, but it was so much more. It was about creating heavily quilted backgrounds which allow the not-so-heavily quilted areas to pop out and catch the eye.

First, she gave us permission to make wonky feathers, and taught us several techniques for rescuing their wonkiness:

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Cindy had prepared batts using silk duppioni and a wool batting for us to work with to see how different textures and weights affect our look (remember this is a workshop, so I am showing you my very imperfect results knowing that mistakes are how we grow!)

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She gave us a lot of materials, and ideas for close quilting in the backgrounds using grids:

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A lot of times, you take a workshop and think “I spent a day of my time for this??” but I would take a Cindy Needham workshop again in a heartbeat. She taught more than I can absorb, gave us extra on extra, and I will have months of homework to even begin to master some of the techniques she taught. She is a GREAT instructor, and a lot of fun.

I told her if she ever gets an invitation to the Quilt Expo in Kuwait, to go! Kuwait would love her, and she would love Kuwait!

Happy Ending: Art Nouveau

Heidi Shelton taught Stack and Whack in Ramstein back in 1999, and I took her class, cut out these blocks, and stitched them together. She had advised us to use bright fabrics, but I just felt like this art nouveau fabric would make great blocks with graceful flowing patterns.

I love the blocks. I love the blue backgrounds. I could hardly wait to get it all together, which went very quickly.

But once I got the blocks together, and hung it up on the project wall, it was just . . . so . . . . BLAH. I was almost sick, I was so disappointed. I looked at it for about a week, at a total loss. I couldn’t think of how to fix it. I added a wide outer border with the original fabric – I like to do that with a Stack and Whack, because the inner blocks look so different from the original fabric. Then I looked at it for about a week, folded it up and put it away.

I pulled it out and looked at it every now and then, at a loss. It is rare that I am so stumped.

Maybe a couple years later I pulled it out. I knew it needed something red, so I put a narrow red band as an inner border, and added an outer border. I didn’t really add a lot of border because I didn’t want the quilt to get too big.

At least every time I moved I would pull it out and ponder what to do. I often pulled it out and asked my quilting friends what they would do. No one really had an idea. “Add an applique!” one friend suggested.

By 2009, back in Doha, I had some time. I had decided on an applique pattern; I designed it myself. Yes, it took me a while, but that is because I wanted it to be consistent with the Art Nouveau feel of the fabric. I love irises, and I had this great hand-dye fabric, not my favorite color, but a color which would brighten the somber mood of the quilt. I used freezer paper and hand appliqued the iris.

Once again, it didn’t do it for me. I love the irises. Somehow, to me, they are not what this quilt needs, but I don’t know what is. And 13 years is long enough, time, I figured, to just get on with my life. I need to get this quilt finished and OUT.

Here is the hilarious part. I ended up teaching Stack and Whack when we started the Qatar Quilt Guild in Doha. It was quick, it thrilled the beginners, and gave me a chance to teach a lot of skills (rotary cutting, the 1/4 inch seam, chain piecing, etc.) and technique while they produced a quick, usable quilt. Every time I taught it, I ended up with another stack and whack for myself, so I ended up with a lot of them – while the first one I ever learned, this one, languished, unfinished, on a shelf in many quilt rooms as I tried to figure out what to do to make it work.

Finally, I just decided to finish it, unsatisfactory as it may be. Even finishing it was a problem for me, tension problems in the quilting of the border, lots of “unstitching” and restitching to get it right . . . will this never end??

Now the good part. I had my daughter-in-law in my quilt room to show her Sheherazade, but she couldn’t keep her eyes off the stack n whack.

“I love it!” she exclaimed. “It’s Art Nouveau!”

I thought of explaining all the things that made this an unsatisfactory quilt – to me – but then I shut my mouth and thought – one look, and she got it. She got the fabric, she got the iris applique, she totally got it. Guess who gets the quilt, thirteen years after I started it? 🙂

Lenten Cross

I’ve been thinking our church needed a new hanging for Lent. We meet in the basement of a church that is not our own, and we don’t have a lot of things to make it our own. Lent this year is particularly somber, and as I am experimenting with low contrast (because I really love high contrast and I need to challenge myself) I envisioned a lighter purple with texture on a darker purple.

I went straight home from church, pulled out the fabrics and started cutting. After I got the main parts assembled, I needed to let it hang a little bit so I could percolate how I was going to finish it.

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The lighter purple is an Italian textured silk I just love. The center is cut from quilter’s plastic, covered with the darker purple and then with the silver fishnet, an effect I just love and reflects Kuwait’s fishing and pearling history.

The priest blessed the cross today, and it can be hung tomorrow.

Church Banner: Nestorian Cross

Our priest asked me to create a banner for the church, and provided some examples of a Nestorian cross, examples of which have been found in the Gulf, and since our church is a church in the Gulf, he thought it would be fitting.

I really wrestled with it for over a year. I couldn’t figure out how to do it. Finally, I threw up my hands, prayed for God to use my hands, and just got started. Honestly, I had no idea when I began how it would finish up.

I started by drafting a very large circle on freezerpaper. I found a piece of fabric that made my heart sing for the background – a sea-life batik, and it was perfect for Kuwait, with the ancient traditions of fishing and pearling. I added a layer of net that catches the light here and there, like the sparkle of the sun on the waves.

Then, I segmented the circle, and gathered up all my neutral silks and beaded and embroidered neutrals, hoping to get a stone mosaic effect for the circle around the cross, and I liked the effect so much, I decided to mosaic the cross, too, to get a more elemental and carved feeling.

While in the original, the circle around the cross comes out from the cross, in my version, the circle is separate.

For something that took me so long . . . meaning the thinking about it took so long – I actually had a lot of fun when I started working on it.

For me, the richness and textures of the fabrics bring to mind the richness and infinite variety of the population here, the rich brew that develops when cultures cross, mix, trans-pollinate – isn’t that what we are supposed to be doing?

Mom’s By the Sea Quilt

This is an early quilt from my love affair with Kaleidescope quilts. Although the quilt looks blue, it is predominantly purple in one corner, green in another, arctic ice in yet another and blue in one. The trick is to blend these colors and make them flow, at the same time creating a sea-like motion.

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I have done several variations on the sea quilts since. I have an entire shelf of fabrics of sea colors. My delight in the kaleidescopes is using the same piece of fabric in one place as a dark, and in another place as a light.

In the bottom left corner, I quilted sea grass. I hand appliqued fish and sea horses, and even an octopus on the finished top, then quilted in a huge octopus in the purple corner, (the appliqued octopus hints to the location) and sea horses in another spot, and swarms of fish in various other places. I don’t tell people about the quilting, I just leave it to them to discover it for themselves. Some do, some don’t. I always tell them there is a secret or two in every quilt.

You can see some octopus tentacles if you look closely, but it is hard to see the entire quilted octopus:
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My pre-digital camera photos of this quilt were taken on a clothesline in a small farming village in Germany. Gone! Gone forever!

Map Quilts Planning and Execution

I’ve made three map quilts – one seems to lead to another. The first is I Left My Heart in Africa, and I will put a photo up as soon as I can get one taken. The quilt is so huge that photographing it will require hanging it off a balcony – and it will take at least two people. It’s a big quilt.

When I asked my niece if she would ever like a quilt, she immediately said she knew just what she wanted, a Morocco quilt. She will photograph it next time she is home – it’s another photo that got lost in the last move, which is why I am putting all this online.

A local friend asked if I would do a map of Turkey for her, and I was happy to do it; she is a dear woman and . . . I like Turkey, too.

Thinking about a map quilt takes longer than actually doing it.

The very first thing is that you get an Atlas and some graph paper and do a basic outline of the country you are going to do – or continent, as in the case of Africa. Before you make the map, you need to know about how big you want the squares to be – for example, I needed 3 1/2 inch blocks for the Africa quilt to use some of the giraffe fabric I wanted to use, and that was the minimum I could make work.

Once you have drawn the country, you know how many squares you are going to need. I use only squares and half squares for the outline, and on Morocco, I made mountains using a stitch and flip technique.

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You will need a project wall to put the rows up on as you sew them. Every two rows sew together, and sew every two the the group above.

You need a lot of fabrics. Where there is sea, you need to have a variety of very lights, to go around the coastline, and a lot more mediums, and a good variety of darks. Tell your friends you will accept any and all scraps that can be used as water, from the very lightest colors to the very darkest.

(With the Africa quilt, friends came up with all kinds of great scraps, including some Egyptian scraps and African symbol scraps. Very cool.)

Where there is land, I use yellow/sand/beige, and, like the water, I have the lightest colors closest to the land mass. Countries surrounding the country you are highlighting get nothing but blah colors, so that the featured color stands out.

Around the edges of the country or continent, I use the darkest colors; the contrast between the dark and light makes the country pop out.

You’ll need to count the number of half square triangles that are land and sea, and the number of half square triangles that are land/land and prepare the half square triangles before you actually start assembling the quilt top.

I also count the land, half triangles and sea/other land squares and put the number in each row. Saves time.

If there are particular motifs you want to include, you have to make them first, unless you intend to applique them later. For the Turkey quilt, my friend wanted a single engine plane and a sailboat, which I made into a dhow. I added the protection against the evil eye and the hand of Fatima. Block them in on the graph.

I usually divide the graph into quarters, and I plan a dominant color for each sector. You will also want transition fabrics to get you from one color to the next.

If you have a large block of land or sea and you want to put something in it, you need to plan that ahead of time, too. In my neices Morocco quilt, there was a large desert area that I couldn’t do anything about (in a rectangular quilt) so I used slightly lighter squares and made a great big camel. I also quilted around it. I told her there was a camel in the quilt, but it was months before she found it – you had to be standing far enough away, and it would pop into view! So – have some fun with this.

Start cutting your squares. You aren’t going to cut the exact number you need, because you need to have lots and lots to choose from, so you cut and cut and cut so that you have masses of squares.

When you sit down to put together the quilt, figure out what dominant color group you will be starting with, and have those closest to you.

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As you finish each row, cross it off. As you start the next row, make sure there are no two identical squares next to each other, or above or below.

NE Corner
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NW Corner
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SW Corner
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SW Corner
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Sea shading from light to dark
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Land shading into Syria
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The quilting is easy – you stitch in the ditch on the landmass, and you can stitch waves or stipple or free motion in the sea and land.

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Finished project:
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