Tag Archives: Fun

Making A Mask

I wrote recently about masks and other faces in the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago. Depictions of faces are one of the most common types of visual art, because we humans find faces fascinating. They are so interesting that we often perceive faces in almost any combination of shapes, in any media. And I do mean any media, including Swiss cheese, bowling balls, and on bug bodies! This article in Mental Floss magazine says the phenomenon of seeing faces everywhere is called “pareidolia,” and it is a function of a healthy brain.

Human brains are exquisitely attuned to perceiving faces—in fact, there’s an entire region of the brain called the fusiform gyrus that is dedicated to it. Its functions are evident even from early childhood: Studies have shown that shortly after birth, babies display more interest in cartoon faces with properly placed features than in similar images where the features are scrambled.

The “face neurons” in people with healthy brains are so overactive that they scream FACE! in many situations where there are no actual faces to be found. Those sophisticated face-detection skills, combined with our brain’s compulsion to extract meaning from the sensory chaos that surrounds us, is why we see faces where there aren’t any. Typically these sightings are nothing more than our mind’s interpretation of visual data …

Well, fortunately I have a healthy brain and see faces in all kinds of things. One sighting was in a paper cutting I did late last year. While playing with the classic, six-sided snowflake method of cutting, I quickly drew and cut this:

Well, no, that’s not a face. (I’ll bet I could find one if I look.) But I did several more cuttings, and this simpler cut-out shouted FACE! to me.

For months this piece of paper has been floating around my studio, sometimes “put away” and sometimes in a stack of other paper cuttings on my counter. For months I’ve wanted to create a mask from it, but until recently I wasn’t really sure how to do that.

If you have spent time around children, you might know that both toddlers and teens can be cross a lot of the time. My theory is that it has a lot to do with them being ready in some ways for the things they want to do, but not fully capable in other ways. They get frustrated in their desires, which makes them cross. Though I haven’t been particularly cross about it, my desire to make a mask from the paper cutting didn’t match up with my skills. Now it does. 

I chose fabrics first and ended up with a completely different color set than I’d expected. That’s okay, right? With a background of brilliant gold-yellow, I chose a deep burgundy to provide the framing. I adhered Wonder-Under fusible web to the burgundy (and no, I don’t use affiliate links or payments, so this isn’t an ad.) Next I traced the shape on the web paper in pencil, and carefully cut it out with small, sharp, scissors. Click either picture to see detail better. 

As I chose the features for the mask — eyes, nose, teeth — I added them one at a time, using parchment paper as my pressing sheet. I pulled the paper away from the fusible on the burgundy mask framing, just for the part I was about to adhere. While fusing shapes together, I left as much of the fusible paper on the framing as I could, to maintain the stability of the shape and avoid damaging the fabric. With the paper removed from the feature (eyeball, for instance,) I placed it behind the framing and ON TOP of the pressing sheet, and pressed the edges together. After the fused pieces were cool, I could peel them away from the pressing sheet as one unit.

I continued to build the face, adding more features as I went, and then adhered the whole thing to the gold background fabric.

Now the features are adhered under the frame and the whole thing is pressed to the gold background. The background isn’t attached to the batik print around the edge.

In the last photo you see it lying on top of a piece of batik. I might frame it with that, or I might choose a different border arrangement. Those are decisions I haven’t made yet.

If you’d like to try six-pointed paper cut-outs, whether to make snowflakes or to make a mask, this is a reasonably good video of the process.

You should note, though, that my “snowflake” has six SIDES, while the video shows how to make a six-POINTED snowflake, with twelve sides. Here is my mask paper-cutting refolded into sixths, not twelfths as their snowflake is. 

The difference in construction is that they’ve folded the paper an extra time. While it allows a more intricate pattern, it’s also substantially harder to cut cleanly. Try playing with some plain copy paper to see what pleases you more.

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¡Fiesta!

This has been an oddly low-stress year, from the standpoint of deadlines. Other than Georgia’s graduation quilt, all my finishes have been on my own timeline. Even so, I’ve been pretty productive and have been learning and practicing new skills.

I have a lot of experiments and works in process, too, but here’s where we are so far with finishes for the year:
1. Fierce Little Bear
2. VA hospital quilt
3. VA hospital quilt
4. Charlotte’s Kitty
5. The Old School House
6. Georgia’s graduation quilt
7. Where Are the Birds? (landscape tree quilt)
8. ¡Fiesta!
9. Hands and Hearts
10. Shirt (YES! I made a shirt! See below for a tiny bit more info.)

Today I’m going to show you ¡Fiesta! It’s a quilt given to a friend who retired recently. And yes, that is Spanish punctuation with the inverted exclamation mark at the beginning of the word.

¡Fiesta! 62″ x 62″. Finished June 2018. Photo by Jim Ruebush

I started this quilt after visiting my sister Cathie at the end of March. Cathie was preparing for a gallery exhibit of her quilts, and in an extraordinary burst of energy and creativity, she made several smaller pieces in a few weeks. One captured my interest from its very simplicity. She had a pieced center, set on point and surrounded by a piano key border. That structure was set on point again.

Inspired, I chose an orphan block made in a workshop last year.  I liked the block, but not enough to make several more for a block quilt. I didn’t put it on point as Cathie arranged her center block, because I didn’t like the strong “cross” or “plus” impression it makes that way. I framed it with a line of red, and then strong corners to give an on-point look. Next came the same piano key border idea. The piano key patches are from my scrap drawer.

Since I was designing as I went, the next task was to choose something from my stash to create corners. To offset the relatively dark values in the piano keys, I chose a light/medium gold print. It includes red and white in the floral design, tying back to the colors already used. To return the center to an “X” arrangement instead of “+” I turned it a second time with the green.

But wowee, that’s a lotta green! And I didn’t want it to look like a baseball field. I’ve been experimenting with appliqué this year to ramp up my skills. This was the perfect occasion to add appliqué.

I tried different stitch styles and zigzag widths, as well as various types of thread, and methods for fusing. Though far from expertly done, it adds a little whimsy and breaks up those large fields of green.

The narrow outer border contributes more fun and repeats the striping provided by the piano keys. And as always, the binding, in red with musical instruments on it, gives the final border touch.

I quilted it with a light celery green. Actually, that was where the only tough going came on this project. I actually started quilting it with red. I got through one pass and knew I hated it. It was too strong, showed up too much. UGH. After removing the quilt from the frame, I “skinned” it, took a blade (Exacto style) and pulled the backing fabric away from the batting, and cut the threads. Though it was still a slow process, it was so much faster and easier than using a seam ripper to slice one thread at a time. After that was done and we got back from our Maryland jaunt, I put the parts back on the frame and started again. It was well worth the effort.

The quilt was a gift for Lisa, a friend Jim and I met when traveling to Cuba in 2015. ¡Fiesta! is a great name for it for three reasons. First, the feel is fun and festive, nothing very serious about it. Second, the strong, clear colors remind me of Fiestaware dishes. And third, being with Lisa is always like being at a party. She is just fun to be with. When Jim and I gave her the quilt, she told us she didn’t have any other quilts except a vintage, family one, so this is extra special for her. 🙂

***

Number 10 on the list above is a shirt. I’ll show you more after I have a photo. For now I’ll tell you, making clothing is not my thing. However, I had a purchased shirt I loved, and last year I used it as the model to make a similar top. That inspiration shirt is made of rayon, and recently it went through the wash and dryer. You may know, rayon feels luxurious, but it can shrink if machine dried. 😦 It’s all okay — I’ve worn it so much it was looking a bit shabby anyway. So I used the home-made shirt as a model for a new one. The new one has a V-neck (with facing!) and French seams. Go ahead, ask me how many times I’ve used French seams before. Yeah. NEVER. And it was splendid. I LOVE this new shirt, and it fits perfectly. And it is prewashed quilting cotton, not rayon, so should hold up to the occasional tumble through the dryer.

Day 15 100daygreenmanproject

As it turns out, not making is hard. I like to make, which is one of the reasons this 100 day project is important to me. MAKING sometimes gets in the way of ASKING “what if?” and TRYING something to find out. The 100 Day Project, for me, is about trying, and about asking. But making is very satisfying! I like the sense of product as much as I like the sense of process.

Last week on Day 7, I took a six-hour workshop and tried (see, TRYING!) working quickly and intensely, without time for hesitation. The technique was different for me, with gluing colorful scraps onto a background and then freely stitching them down. I haven’t done a lot of appliqué of any kind, and none of that before. I also used fusible web to appliqué a word.

Later that week, still infused with enthusiasm, I tried (TRYING!) designing a Claddagh ring emblem. I used fusible web for it, as well. There are other things I will try on it, including weaving leaves around the ring and machine stitching the appliqué down. However, I ran out of fusible, and I had no stabilizer.

Our local JoAnn Fabric store is moving and the current location is in liquidation. The store is quickly emptying and they were out of the products I need. The only other local places to buy these supplies are a Hobby Lobby (I don’t shop there) and a WalMart (rarely shop there, either.) Instead, I ordered the items online, along with new pins (Dritz Super-Fine Sharp pins!) and machine needles. It will be a few days until they show up.

 

The Green Man project has been in slow-mo for the last week, but he hasn’t been abandoned. I reviewed my fabrics and found them wanting. A trip to the best shop around here for what I want will wait a few more days. I pulled out all my books on story quilts so I can page through them. I spend a lot of time thinking about him.

However, not making is hard. Sunday I decided to make.

Do you have orphan blocks? Orphan blocks are single blocks (or occasionally sets of them) from projects that have been abandoned. Sometimes they are test blocks, used to try out a technique or pattern. You might create an orphan block by signing up for a block-of-the-month and then deciding not to continue. Or maybe you made one great block out of twelve for a block quilt, but you found you didn’t enjoy the process.

I don’t have a lot of orphans but I’ll admit to a few. (And no, I don’t count single blocks as UFOs. They are not projects. They are just another resource like other kinds of fabric. There is no shame attached to them.) One of them came from a workshop I took about a year ago. The workshop was to learn to create a particular pieced block. (I won’t do that again. For me, workshops can be valuable for learning how to do something new, or practice techniques or skills, not for learning to create a particular teacher’s pattern with traditional piecing.)

Ahem… One of my few orphans was from that workshop. I liked it — bright, colorful, strong contrast, you know, all the characteristics I like. But I was not about to make more.

Sunday morning I pulled fabrics to make that orphan into a medallion quilt top. The block is the center within the narrow red-line border.

Fiesta! Unquilted top. Approximately 62″ x 62″. April 17, 2018.

This was easy and quick. I finished the top a whole 48 hours after starting. There was almost no math involved. (See my post on setting a block on point.) ANYONE can do this type of medallion. No, it’s not my most spectacular, but it’s gonna be a heckuva lap quilt for someone.

The piano keys border was cut from scraps. I cut them widths between 1.5″ and 2″, depending on what the scrap could give me. I cut them to 5″ long, or left them in long segments if they were long enough, to be trimmed up later. When I finished assembling the sides of piano keys, I cut each border segment to 4.5″ wide, to finish at 4″. Trimming both sides of the border gave me an even edge to stitch.

The bright gold setting points happened partly because I had enough of that fabric. The other things I had didn’t suit, because they were too dull or just the wrong color. The green setting triangles and border were chosen for similar reason.

The great striped border? I bought a yard of that recently when I visited my sister.

It’s called Fiesta! It was fun to make. One of the reasons it was fun was because I didn’t hesitate on decisions. I used what I had and what worked. The construction was simple with hardly any piecing.

I have three yards of another green print to use on the back. It’s not enough, so I’ll use most of the rest of the top’s green to add a strip. And guess what! I have a length of binding from the same fabric that should be long enough to finish this. If it’s not, I’ll cobble together binding strip remnants of reds, blues, and greens.

And tomorrow I’ll start on the Green Man again. This time, I’ll work on a chicken. Yeah, that’s the lovely thing about how I defined my project: even a chicken counts. 🙂

Green Man Project First 8 days

Today is the ninth day of my 100 day journey through the Green Man. I’m not actually working on him today; instead, I’m writing this update.

My intention is to explore techniques of creating a Green Man medallion quilt, and my greater motivation is to learn more and better ways of telling stories through quilts. I don’t believe that a quilt needs to be an “art” quilt in order to convey meaning. And I don’t believe a piece of art (or craft) needs to be representational to do that, either. Even representational art can be brushed off as merely pretty (as if being pretty is a bad thing) rather than meaningful. Stories are told in many different ways, and meaning conveyed depends as much on the audience as on the teller of the story.

But the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” is repeated for a reason. Pictures create a shorthand. And learning how to draw a picture to help tell stories is a worthy endeavor.

With no further ado, here is a bit about my progress in that direction.

My friend, with whom I am bartering work, wants a quilt representing a Green Man. This is a figure with mythology intertwined with both pagan and Christian background. In general, the symbolism represents humans’ interrelationship with nature. Images of the Green Man on ancient Christian churches across Britain and France show how tangled the early Church’s religious messages were with non-Christian beliefs.

My goal will be to express the Green Man as mankind tied to nature, as my friend is with her small family farm.

I began by noticing the printed design on my bedroom curtains. I thought a face could easily fit into the lower part of one of the motifs.

That, and a photo of the friend’s husband, led to this:

I didn’t love the upper part, or what I think of as a crown. I also wasn’t comfortable with copying the fabric designer’s motif so nearly. I wanted a crown with proportion a little more comfortable for the face, and also a more original composition.

I rearranged some elements and changed others. Then I traced it onto freezer paper with a Sharpie marker and cut away the background. I pressed it onto solid black fabric, leading to this:

But that does a poor job giving a notion of what color would do to the appearance. I decided to try again tracing with pencil and coloring with crayons. This certainly isn’t the color set I will use, (and really, they photographed badly,) but it gives me a notion of where to start. This photo uses my dark green cutting mat as the background, rather than black fabric. I like the dark green but want some depth of value on it.

I’m pretty happy with the notion of this now. The real question is how to execute it. I’ve ruled out using wool applique, because I want my fabrics to be richer with pattern. However, I’ve also ruled out using only batiks. Other printed and solid fabrics will have their place, both in the center block and in the rest of the quilt.

My workshop Monday with Kim Lapacek also gave me new tools for storytelling. Whether or not the techniques show up in this quilt, my imagination has been broadened.

RESIST

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind. We traveled to see family; I finished four quilts with binding and gave two of them away; I gave away another; I began the 100 Day Project and successfully made it through the first seven (eight now!) days; I cleaned up my own guild presentations flyer and created one to represent my guild; and I took a full-day workshop.

Hopefully I’ll get around to talking about all of those things, other than the family trip, of course! But today I want to tell you about the workshop. Yesterday my guild (Old Capitol Quilters Guild, based in Iowa City, IA) hosted Kim Lapacek, best known for her Project Quilting challenges and the amazing Dresden Neighborhood pattern. (Kim, give me a link to your pattern for sale, please!)

Kim led a workshop in the style of her Project Quilting challenges. Nine guild members spent the day inspired by her take-no-prisoners style of quilt-making. She goes ALL OUT, with techniques, embellishments, color, and pattern. As our challenge, she provided fat-quarters of base fabric as well as two more fabric pieces to each of us. We were to create and FINISH a quilt top in the six-hour time slot, using those two printed fabrics and NO straight-edge ruler. In addition, we were given a limit on how much fabric we could bring — only the amount that fits in a brown paper lunch sack. (I eat a big lunch…) Also the fabric pieces we brought were supposed to be scraps, less than a fat quarter. While that lays a lot of constraints down, the subject or direction of our individual projects was completely up to each of us.

As she spoke, my thoughts turned to a project I’ve wanted to make for about a year-and-a-half. Inspired partly by her own “amazing technicolor dream heart quilt,” I decided to use a rainbow color scheme. Mine was not because of my love of all colors, but rather my intention to recognize LGBTQ rights as basic human and civil rights. It might be a poor shorthand, but it is eye-catching.

The verbal message is plain in black letters.

A guild friend asked me what I am resisting. I said I’m resisting racism, sexism, disenfranchisement, sexual assault as a norm, … Though I stopped at that in telling her, certainly my resistance is more inclusive.

From a technique standpoint, I used a piece of muslin about 28″ x 31″ as the backing. (This is bigger than the one Kim gave me. We joked that I was disqualified from the challenge for that, and for bringing a slightly bigger bag of fabric than she was picturing.) I drew lines through the center to divide the piece into eight wedge sections. My first take on filling the sections was to start “improv-piecing” green bits together. Quickly it was clear that would take too much time.

As an alternative, I got out my bottle of Elmer’s school glue. In the green section I made a wavy line of glue and started adhering bits of fabric. When the green section was covered in green fabric, I stitched down the bits in straight-ish lines, trying to move along most of the edges but not being very fussy about it. After all, this needed to be FAST to meet the completion part of the challenge.

I continued around my rainbow, adding in teal/turquoise and compressing the indigo/violet. After adding each section, I pressed it with my hot iron.

Once all the colors were on, I used fusible web and a strip of black fabric to create the letters and attach them. Yes, I remembered to draw the letters in reverse!

Make no mistake, the glue did leave a mess. I needed to wash the table top where I did the glue work, and I cleaned up my machine, where the glue-y fabric rubbed along it under the presser foot. Also I cleaned the bobbin area, to pull out any remnants of dried glue underneath. I do still need to wash the presser foot and change the needle. For the future, if I do this again, I’ll use my less-valuable sewing machine.

My project is not done, after all. I have a concept for the outer edge of the muslin, still uncovered by color. Also I need to decide whether I will quilt it or simply leave it as a poster for myself.

The workshop was the MOST FUN I’ve had at a workshop. With encouragement and inspiration, Kim helped me unlock a portion of my brain. I wonder what else is in there… 🙂