Monday, 13 October 2014

Still not convinced about Big Stitch Quilting?

Well my very first blog post was about big stitch hand quilting and I still have a feeling that not many of you are convinced.

Since that first post, 22 months, ago I've big stitched lots of my quilts. Most of the Trip Around The World series has been finished, just one left. This fact on its own shows how good this method of quilting is - my UFOs are almost non existant. I've even finished big bed quilts, the ones you procrastinate over for the longest or send them out to a long arm quilter!

If you look carefully you can see the Big Stitching on all of these quilts.

I am completely convinced that this is the way to get your quilts finished.

I love stitching.
Here's some recent stitching on indigo dyeing

The first quilts were sparsely stitched and I used the seams as my guidelines, usually staying just a little beyond the underturned seam allowance - less fabric to sew through. The Trip Around The World quilts lend themselves to lovely long diagonals or chevrons. The quilt backs are beautiful wholecloths.

This is the centre of this quilt where the chevron design from both sides meets.
But now I've begun to stray off the path and do freehand lines. It's a bit daunting and when not all of the stitches are perfect it really shows.

The trick is to keep your needle lined up with the stitches as you make them. Not all of my stitches are the same, but most of them are. In fact someone - a non quilter - just presumed the stitching had been done on a machine!! Also if I am quilting across the whole width of the quilt I will cut the thread the length to go from one side to the other. Then I pull it through the centre of the quilt line and leave half of it dangling and quilt from the centre to the edge and then go back to the centre and out to the other edge. This way the beginning and end of the threads are in the outside edge of the wadding.

I use my own hand dyed threads which match the quilts. I love the way this creates an extra element of surprise; a little pop of white thread from where I'd tied a knot when dyeing, a stretch of yellow running over brown fabrics, a sudden green thread where the dyes mixed.

Choosing beautiful thread will enhance your quilt. Having different colours, or shades of the same one, allows the thread to appear and disappear against certain prints or solids. It creates small details and interesting elements which you will notice much later when you're using the quilt and sitting under it, and studying the geometric shapes and the fabrics and the quilting.

So take one of your UFOs and try big stitch quilting on it. Take the plunge into the unknown, you don't know what might be out there.....

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Dyeing with Woad.

Today for the first time ever I got blue dye from a plant. I'm thrilled.

I live on what's called the Tropical Coast, the local commercial crops are mangos, avocados and custard apples. I sowed the seed last August and in January we planted the plants out on a terrace of mango trees.

This week we reckoned there were enough leaves big enough to try - even though normally woad is harvested in Northern Europe during the summer.

So first thing this morning off I went to pick the leaves.

The plants under a (small) mango tree.
I used leaves mainly from the plant on the left.

I have never done any dyeing with indigo, despite having synthetic indigo and all the additional chemicals sitting in a box since last summer.

I followed Jenny Dean's recipe for fresh woad leaves from her book Wild Colour. I substituted soda ash for washing crystals.First I steeped the leaves in boiling water for an hour. I had to keep the liquid warm for an hour but by putting the pan into another filled with boiling water and out in the sun the water remained very hot for the whole time.

I hadn't been able to find a thermometer but she tells you that 50 degrees is as hot as your hand can tolerate. I strained off the leaves. So now in went the soda ash, again a bit of guess work. I used 250g of leaves and 1.5 litres of water and put in about 3/4 of a teaspoon of soda ash. The pH changed to about 9.
Now I had to whisk to get a blue froth. We whisked and whisked and I was told not to put in more soda ash by the chemistry student in the family!

This isn't blue! By now I was wondering if I'd picked the leaves too soon but we continued. 

I added 3 teaspoons of sodium hydrosulphite and waited.

Now it was time to put in the wetted fibres. We still had no idea if there was any blue present.And then we noticed a blue tinge to the film on top of the water and suddenly it all looked like it might work.

And it did!!!It was so exciting and just like magic. You take out the fibre and it just turns blue in front of your eyes - MAGIC.

The thin cotton muslin dyed beautifully as did the wool. I also put in some other cotton, which as usual with natural dyes was really disappointing - though I'm wondering if there was soda ash left in it from scouring which could have affected the result as the muslin was just washed.

Here is the magic on video - it only takes 38 seconds!

So now I'm just incredibly excited, and full of questions. We're sowing the rest of our woad seeds tomorrow. I'm wondering if with the climate here we can get colour all year round. I'm hoping when it gets a bit warmer to experiment by using different alkalis and reducing agents which are not chemicals out of a bottle.

But for now I'm just basking in a blue glow.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Making Felt

Last weekend I spent making felt.
It's been in preparation since the Autumn. I've been experimenting with natural dyes - pomegranates, fig leaves, onion skins, cochineal - all ingredients which I can find locally.
Experiments on cotton were very disappointing so I switched to wool.
In November, whilst in Ireland, I picked up two fleeces; one from Evelyn Shannon and a beautiful Jacob's fleece from her neighbour in County Wicklow.

Here's the wool. It's quite dirty and just working out how to wash it took a lot of experiments. The trick is to take out enough of the grease and dirt so that it'll dye well, but not too much otherwise it feels like a pan scourer!

So having done lots of experiments , including little bits of felt, I decided to really try and ''produce'' some.

It took three days.

Friday evening I made the sandwiches - layers of wool running in different directions. I put four layers and as my wool isn't carded I teased it out bit by bit. Even though it was washed  a fair bit of dirt still fell out. But it was worth it as the finished results were scrumptious.

 Two pieces had Jacob's wool, white and dark on the top and the other has wool in various shades of pink, all from cochineal.

Saturday I started felting. Copious amounts of hot water with soap in. Possibly using too much water? Out on the terraza. It's really hard work not helped by a rabbit running around my feet and making me worry that he'd end up with soapy water in his eyes. I eventually shut him in his cage.

Most of the layers began to felt together so after a lot of rubbing I put them out and had a break.

In the end I didn't get back to them until Sunday. They now needed serious beating to finish the process. I rolled them up with bamboo mats and bubble wrap and rolled, and rolled, and rolled. Poured boiling water all over them and rolled, and rolled, and rolled. The bamboo mats fell apart so I started just using bubble wrap and suddenly everything began to felt together and shrink.

I was considering making felt cushions to sell but have decided that they would cost a small fortune because of the time and sheer hard work making felt entails.
I'm going to keep experimenting with the natural dyes and the wool but just for me.

Finished pieces out drying.

This weekend it's poured with rain and I've ended up back with the textiles I love -my own hand-dyed fabrics. I'm making a range of bags to sell - but that's the next blog.

And I now, finally, have loads of rainwater collected to use with my cochineal.