Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The thread

I am really glad I wrote that post about thread and, wow, so many responses! And most of you felt like I do about all that fancy, expensive thread. That was really heartening. Sometimes, even though my gut says there is something fishy going on, I feel like the clod who doesn't get what all the cool quilters are using and loving. I have to remind myself that, as Kristen said, it is more than an art form, it is a competitive market and we are the suckers customers. But I find myself frequently a little out of step with the cool quilters anyway, so it's nothing new.

I do need to mention, regarding the comments, that I know nothing about long-arm quilting machines and what their thread requirements are. I am just talking about those of us who are slaving away at our little Berninas and Janomes and such. And for the commenter who said that spools of the expensive thread go farther than spools of cheaper thread, so are therefore not really so much more expensive, I was comparing cost by yards of thread, not spools, so I'm not buying your theory.

Mary asked about my favorite threads. OK. Here they are.

I have always really liked Star thread. It is all long staple cotton and comes on these nice big (1200 yd.) spools. I used to buy it in a million different colors at Oregon Tailor Supply and it was really cheap. Oregon Tailor Supply went out of business and Star was purchased by Coats and Clark. It is now much harder to find and when I do I usually find only a small selection of colors and it is more expensive than it used to be, but I still like it and buy it when I can find it.

Guterman and Mettler both come on these skinny spools. I used to sell the Mettler in my shop years ago and it was considered a premium thread at the time. I buy Guterman at Joannes when it is on sale. They seem very similar to me.

Coats and Clark is not a favorite, not because it doesn't work well in my sewing machine, but because it seems the most tangly for hand-sewing. But it is ubiquitous and comes in a million colors and works fine, IMO. I think it gets an undeserved bad rap. I especially like the design of their new spools (the two frontmost spools) They have a nice groove around each end that the thread end can easily be secured in. Much better than the sharp little notch in the old spools.

Sulky 12 weight topstitch thread is my gourmet indulgence. It is a thicker thread and I like it for the wild and crazy decorative stitching I do on some of my pieces. It is expensive by my standards, but much less than a yard of fabric! It has the same kind of spool, with the nifty place to secure the thread end, as the Coats and Clark thread.

This is the oldest spool of thread in my thread drawers. It could be 50 years old or more and is on a wooden spool. The brand is Talon. Do they even make thread anymore? Can you see the price? Twenty nine cents—now you're talkin'! I wouldn't actually use it. You can snap it very easily. But I like having it roll around with my other threads.

Today I ordered some thread from Connecting Threads. It is their own brand—Essential Thread. I have heard good and not-so-good reviews, but the colors look great, the folks who like it really like it and the price is really good. I will let you know if it is OK.

One more comment on the comments. One commenter said that maybe the people who were experiencing lint problems with their thread just weren't cleaning their machines often enough. Bam! Exactly right. I sweep out all the lint—and it isn't that much unless I am sewing an extra linty fabric—every time I change my bobbin. That little lint brush lives right next to my sewing machine.

And, if this thread discussion hasn't already shown you what a bargain shopper I am, look at these—

I found these irresistible bright red ceramic flower pots at the Dollar Store. Perfect for markers, scissors, pencils and cutting tools.

For my non-sewing readers, I can only imagine how geeky two whole blog posts about thread must seem...

Monday, February 25, 2013

About thread...

Something has happened in the past, maybe, five or six years. (Or maybe it has been longer and I just haven't been paying attention.)  Among quilt artists thread has gone from being a basic staple of our supplies to gourmet. Special. Trendy. Expensive! I have to admit I don't quite get it.

Backing up. I have been sewing and buying thread for at least 50 years. Really. And a few of the spools in the photo above may go back that far! I learned a long time ago that one must buy good quality thread. That stuff that is in bins and sells 3 for $1, or packaged on a card in the grocery store, will not do. It is lumpy and it breaks and it tangles unreasonably. I am partial to a good, long staple cotton mercerized thread, but a cotton-wrapped polyester works in a pinch. I have dabbled in shiny rayons and metallics and variegated threads (bottom drawer in the photo above) but those are not my go-to everyday threads. My everyday thread is what I have always considered "good" thread.

Suddenly, it seems, my old standby brands are considered inferior and there are new companies now out there selling superior (pardon the pun) threads that are at least triple the price of what I have been using for fifty years. How are they better? Less lint, they say. Stronger, they say. I have never been aware of a lint problem, nor have I suffered from weak threads causing damage. I suppose, though not with great conviction, that they may be technically superior, but I'm not sure how good thread needs to be. It needs to do a job. My thread runs quite beautifully through my sewing machine. It provides the strength I need and it holds my work together as I expect it to. I don't ask much more from thread than that. I would rather see the texture it creates than the thread itself.

I know many art quilters feature the thread, by using shiny, or sparkly or thread that changes color as you sew, but those aren't the special threads I am talking about. I am talking about regular old, utilitarian, unobtrusive cotton thread.

I left our local SAQA meeting last week, after a long thread discussion, very depressed. I was ready to come home and trash my entire thread collection, until I had a little time to think about this. I have a feeling we quilters are being "upsold" by all these new thread companies. I'm skeptical. I think some things can be "improved" beyond what they need to be just to provide consumers with the belief that they are getting something better. One person at our meeting said she was now spending more on thread than on fabric. Crazy.

I'm pretty sure I will get some feedback. Please—tell me what I am missing.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Collage and Romare Beardon

I have been volunteering at Sofia's school in the Art Literacy Program. It has been an interesting and challenging experience.The program is set up for volunteers (like me) to present 6 different art lessons during the year. The same basic lesson, usually about a particular artist, and an art project are presented to all Beaverton K-6 classrooms. Some enthusiastic volunteers repeat the lesson for several different classrooms. Most of us work with only one classroom. I do my lessons for Sofia's class. The challenge, for me, has been tailoring the generic lesson for a Kindergarten classroom. It's all too easy to give them too much information and show too many slides, then they become so squirrely that the following art project is a chaotic mess! I gave my third lesson last week and I cut the slide part way back. I think it was better, but they finished the art project much more quickly than I thought they would. It is a balancing act—not unlike getting all the parts of a big dinner done at the same time.

The most recent lesson was about Romare Beardon, an artist I was only vaguely familiar with. I learned as much, or more, than the kids did. Beardon was a painter and collage artist in the early part of the 20th century. He moved from the south to New York and was part of the Harlem Renaissance. For the purposes of the lesson, we focused on his collage work, which was marvelous! Here is a little taste:

One Night Stand

Conjure Woman

The Pepper Jelly Lady

The art project that the kids did was a collage using paper and magazine photos and a photo of themselves. Some of them really got into it and had great ideas. Others, not so much. I am finding that there is a vast diversity of ability and maturity amongst 27 5-year-olds.

I loved Beardon's work and was struck by how strong it is. I think I have been looking at too many prissy, ephemeral "sketchbook" collages! I made another collage today.

Beardon's collages tell stories. I think I want to try that with the next collage.

The next lesson will be about the art of the South Pacific Islands—Oceania. It looks great and the project will be a mask, which I think the kids will really like.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Undoing the sins of the past

If you have read this blog for awhile you know our house is a work in progress—an old, out-of-date house on a beautiful lot. We have been working on it for the past five years and made a lot of improvements, including adding the studio and greenhouse, but the back, non-public part of the house is still in need of help. The bathroom, in particular. Sometime in the past thirty or so  years, previous owners wallpapered. Extravagantly. Horrifically. Unforgivably.

Not one ugly wallpaper, but three—a faux woven design on the upper half, a mottled blue on the bottom half, all tied together with a border of hydrangeas (or are they lilacs?) and sweet peas around the middle. And the floor was covered in dusty rose plush carpeting. We have hardened ourselves to the reality of that bathroom and "lived with it." Then several months ago the toilet leaked and soaked the disgusting carpet, so Ray pulled it out. Under the carpet we found vinyl flooring in the same pattern my friend Muriel, had in her kitchen in 1980. And—it covered only half the bathroom floor. The rest was unfinished plywood. Behold:

At last we are interviewing contractors and making plans to enlarge and refresh this old bathroom. I have been picking at that wallpaper since we moved into the house, but today I got serious about getting it out of there in preparation for fresh, clean paintable walls.  I enlisted Sofia's help, and she got into it.

Have you ever removed wallpaper? Sometimes it is the easiest thing in the world. Once when we bought a different house I curiously peeled up a corner of the unwanted wallpaper in the dining room and gave it a pull and the whole panel stripped off cleanly. I had the whole room un-papered in about 30 minutes. Usually it is much harder than that. This bathroom is a bit by bit, layer by layer job. If I had a nickel for every square foot of wallpaper I have removed in my life (the cost of loving old houses) I would be a rich woman. I have tried all the chemicals and tools made and found that the best are a sharp putty knife and a spray bottle full of very hot water. I got a good start, but it is going to be a slow job.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Red Domes

I finally photographed this quilt! And it is not a great photo—seems a little hazy, but OK for web viewing I think. I will take a better photo later. I think gremlins come in and mess with the settings on my camera. Yeah, that's exactly what I think happens.

I loved making this piece. It is not perfect, but I won't point out its flaws, because even with them, it expresses what I wanted to express. It is based on a photo, but it is a fantasy. A few months ago I decided I was done with realistic colors. I had so burned out on green and sky blue and brown. Time for a little "if I ruled the world..." So here is a pretty sedate basilica, all dressed up in new plaid clothes. Somebody asked me if it was in Russia. No—Mexico.

I have been thinking this would be good to submit for the High Fiber Diet "Simply Red" show. I went to HFD tonight and there was discussion about that red theme. "Does it have to be all red?" someone asked. "No, but it should read red" was the reply. Then we all got a little hilarious wondering how boring it might be to walk into a show where every piece was just red. I guess it will be up to the jurors to decide if "Red Domes" reads red. Seems like red is a pretty big theme, and it will be more interesting if everyone kind of dances around the idea of red rather than making 50 visions of hell, but I'm not a juror. We shall see. Can you see this in a red-themed show?

It is always a decision whether to post quilts that will be submitted to shows on my blog. In fact it has gotten to be a real bone of contention with blogger/artists. Some shows will not accept work that has been "published" and a blog is a kind of publishing. Pooey, phooey, phooey! That is such a pain. My blog is here to show my work. I guess if I ever think I may have a chance of being accepted into Quilt National, who are the most adamant about the no publishing rule, I will hold it back, but really—fat chance. So enjoy. (But don't ask me if there is a pattern available. No patterns. No.) But I do know that someone will ask how big it is. I don't remember. Maybe 2' by 3' give or take?

And just for fun, here is the photo that was the inspiration. The Basilica of Santo Domingo in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Someday I will do this again and make the domes black and white checkerboards, which were really pretty cool. And don't you think they should plant some cypress trees next to the basilica?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Pictures of pictures

That's all I have for you tonight.

It has been a strange week. I am playing a frustrating waiting for email answers game with the editor of a magazine.   This may not work out. I made a little quilt that I thought might work for the magazine. It is butt ugly. It won't work. I showed it to my STASH friends who kindly said, "it miiiight be OK...." It won't work, but if editor never gets back to me it won't matter.

Here are my pictures of pictures:

These are photos of some of my quilts that I loaded onto my Kindle Fire. I figured out how to do this at 3 am this morning when I couldn't sleep. Not that it was difficult, I just had never taken the time to figure it out. It seemed like I should have some kind of device that I carry around with photos of my quilts on it. And, as it turns out, they look incredible on the Kindle. (the reflections are a little distracting in these photos—in person is way better) Another reason to love my little Kindle.

My worse than usual night's sleep is because I am all fouled up, sleepwise. I had a really ugly stomach virus for a couple days and slept all day. (I will spare you the gruesome details) Now my brain seems to be on overdrive with all that stored up sleep.  I am hoping for a better night tonight. See what I mean?—strange week. Though I did manage to post on the drawing blog between waves of nausea.

Tomorrow I hope to photograph the Red Domes quilt. I spent much time today searching for my camera. After looking in all the usual places in both house and studio, I convinced myself it was in Ray's car, which Ray was driving in the next county. When he got home I did not find it in his car, but 10 minutes later I found it, attached to the tripod, lurking in the corner of the studio. Dorp. By then I had lost the light and the motivation.

If I don't sleep tonight I'm going to figure out how to organize those Kindle photos into albums.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

And so it goes...

I see it is more than a week since my last blog post. Where does the time go? I have been blogging—just not here. I decided I needed to revive my drawing blog, Pen, Pencil, Paper—Draw! and have written a couple of posts there. This one is actually related to my fabric art. It's about creating a sketch for a future fabric piece.

I also posted on the Sketchbook Challenge blog about the theme of the month, "Sweets."

On the home front, I finished my "Red Domes" quilt, which I will post when I get good photos taken of it. I am pleased with it and looking forward to another in the series. I have an idea, but have a few more pressing projects in the works before I can start on it.

Last Friday I took a day off and rode over to Astoria, Oregon with Ray for the day. He had a business meeting there and I went along for the ride and the scenery. It was a gorgeous day. Astoria is the oldest town in Oregon and very historic, and it sits at the mouth of the Columbia River, where it flows into the Pacific Ocean and is famously gray and rainy—almost always. But on Friday it was gloriously sunny and the sky was a brilliant blue. I wandered around town and took a few phone photos. This shows that great sky and the former John Jacob Astor hotel building.

Inside this building was a charming antique shop. The sun streaming in the big windows gave the old treasures a real glow. I didn't buy a thing, but loved everything I saw—the building most of all.

note the silhouette of the old sewing machine in the window

I have been working on my valentines and got them in the mail yesterday.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Super Bowl Sunday

Since I have absolutely, positively, NO interest in football or the Super Bowl, I always welcome Super Bowl Sunday as a day of my own, to go about doing whatever I please while the rest of the country is planted in front of their TV sets. This year I am catching up on a few things.

  • First off, I went to Dick Blick and bought a couple of new drawing pens because I am going to revive my drawing blog and that means I need to start drawing. Nice to have fresh new pens in a couple of thicknesses.
  • Then, since Joanne's is just around the corner from Blick, I ran in and bought a Quilt Trends magazine. I have been asked to write an article for it and wanted to get a feel for what the magazine is like.
  • I made a couple of new collages, using a sheet of printed candy hearts. I love eating those candy hearts, but I have given up eating sugar until my birthday in April, so I am enjoying them vicariously in paper form. I like the second collage better than the first. Actually the candy hearts were not very inspiring when I started trying to put something together. They dominate. No two ways about it.

  • Then I scanned a couple of drawings and wrote a blog entry for my drawing blog,  Pen, Pencil, Paper—Draw!  I haven't written anything on it since September. Ugh. I have been trying to decide whether to close it down, but my motivation for starting it was largely to get myself drawing more, so I am recommitting myself to it. I hope you will join me there!
  • Next I will write a post for the Sketchbook Challenge blog and then I hope to get in a little studio time this afternoon.
So, I hope you all are enjoying the game and your chips and beer and nachos. Me, I am getting things done!

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Patrick Caulfield

Margaret left a comment on my last blog post (the one about my crazy dream of designing a pots and pans quilt) and said my little sketch of the pots was "very Patrick Caulfield." Well, sorry to say I was not familiar with Patrick Caulfield.  The last art history class I took was in 1968 and I tend to be hit and miss about anything that has happened since! So I googled him, of course.

Oh yes, Caulfield is my kind of guy.

Do a Google image search on "Patrick Caulfield." You have a treat awaiting you.

I think this one needs a carrot.