A Grab Bag

I’ve been sewing, but not updating! In fairness I’ve been doing a bunch of other things – like sewing a plush as hell black faux fur coat and then getting married in it. (I also wore a dress underneath).

Not visible in the pictures: a fine dusting of fluff on everything in my studio, including all my shelves because it floated everywhere. Not a bad effort for being thrown together in two nights before the wedding though.

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I also finished off a single bed sized quilt for a commission. I hadn’t tried this lattice pattern before and while I love the final result I think I would probably try a different construction technique in future. I do love the little aeroplane pattern on the backing though.

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Plus when I was in Melbourne last I visited Making the Australian Quilt: 1800-1950 at the National Gallery of Victoria. I found it super fascinating and also got to demonstrate some good quilt-nerd facts to my date. I was particularly enamored with the Wagga quilts and some of the silk log cabins. As per usual, I found the crazy quilts boring and hideous, but I can respect the skill that goes into them.

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I also really loved this red and white quilt which was made as a prize in a raffle? So much advice stitched into one item!

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Newly in progress and hopefully to be polished off shortly is another pinwheel quilt (I had a hell of a time finding matching fabrics to pull to to synch with what my friend gave me to work around – baby loves their jewel tones a little too much it seems.)

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Minimalism and Wholecloth Quilting (?)

I have two (2) things to show off today! The first is a quilt which I made as a birthday gift for someone very dear to me. It’s my first experiment with English paper piecing, as well as the first quilt which is (sort of, I guess) a wholecloth quilt. I’ve been fascinated by wholecloth quilts for ages now, and it might be something I experiment with more later this year. I’m keen to try out multiple layers of imagery in them in subtly different thread colours, because why would I start with something straightforward? That would be the easy way out.

But anyway, a few more progress pictures. I should also mention that the design was inspired by some of the quilts I’ve seen Modern Handcrafts make.

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Arranging the hexagons and deciding on my fabric choices.

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I sort of love how all the tiny safety pins look spread across the quilt – like a school of fish.

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I think this might be as far as  I go with paper-piecing. I’m still chipping away at the (very small) paper pieced block for the Sleigher quilt I started, uh, a year and a half ago. I love the lightness of this quilt though and the quilted lines were also my first experiment with using a disappearing fabric marker. It worker surprisingly well and has me thinking about whole cloth projects with more seriousness.

And the finished quilt, with a black and gold binding.

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The other thing I’ve been making fast progress with has been the nesting quilt I showed some early progress on in my last post. I’ve around 2/3 of the way through sewing the initial four block portions, I think perhaps another few hours and the whole top should be complete. I like naming my quilts, and I’m still tossing around potential names for this series (this is 1 of 7). Part of me wants some kind of play on the ever smaller quilts, or something to do with the repetition and inversion of form and colour that will be apparent through the whole series.

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Presently completed four-block squares.

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Dwindling pile of single blocks.

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This quilt top looks like complete chaos and I love it (this is just laid out to get an idea – the final version will have some sage and yellow to offset it a little.)

The other development is that I finally got shelves for my studio! No more storing everything in a pile of plastic containers inching ever closer to my workbench. Left is all my fabric arrayed by colour, right is lengths suitable for backing or binding and a separate cube for each WiP.

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Variations on a Theme.

So, for the better part of the last two years almost everything I’ve made has been chevrons. Different colours and sizes, sure, but chevrons as far as the eye can see. It looks like 2015-16’s look du annual will be hexagons.

The hexy-rainbow I’ve been working on has continued to come together swiftly. (Also this will be posted in my Etsy store when it’s done – if you’d like to bags it before it goes up, post a comment or email me at contact AT fukitu.com.)

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300 safety pins and the death of the remaining cartilage in my knees later…

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All the free motion quilting done, awkwardly piled over my worktable for trimming before the binding.

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Quilt waterfalls.

So far so good – although there was one casualty of this quilt (aside from my knees and wrists.) My poor little Brother BM-2600 gave up the ghost in a sad fashion part way through the free motion quilting. After probably an hour and a half of running it solidly at top speed it made a very sad noise, slowed to a crawl and started to smell lightly of overheating electrics. I ran it into the ground (I suspect I burned out the motor.) I bought a replacement from the same point in Brother’s line: the GS2510. I’ve heard some people have issues with the longevity of Brother machines, but honestly I’ve never had an issue with their entry level mechanical ones: I used the 2600 for eight years and probably sewed on it for an average of 10-15 hours a week. I should confess I never took it for a proper service, figuring if it blew a gasket in a spectacular fashion I could just afford to spring for a new one and instead just aimed a can of compressed air at the bobbin-zone once in a while. All things considered, given it cost me something like $250 when I bought it I think I got a good deal of life out of it.

I also had a lovely haul arrive from Hawthorne Threads.

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My plan for this is a drunkards path quilt, which should measure about 185cm x 185cm when complete.

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However, when you trim the white L-shapes for this quilt you’re left with a bunch of smaller quarter circles, which seem to suggest they ought to be in a complementary quilt which is slightly smaller.

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And then of course, you’d trim the L shapes for THAT quilt and be left with slightly smaller again quarter circles. Needless to say I took to my high tech design wall.

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Expect some delightful smaller and smaller drunkards paths until I get sick of following this weird little rabbit hole. I find the idea of recursive quilts echoing back and forth very very satisfying.

One last tiny hexagon tease though, something I’m revealing in full next week:

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Further Finishes

Something about the New Year is making me want to finish what I’ve started before I begin anything new. In my last post I showed off the coat I’ve finally finished after some eight months – today I have two more finishes, and one WiP I’m making good progress on.

First! The baby quilt I finished just before Christmas. I recently located the photos I took and then immediately lost among my extensive library of memory cards.

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I love it: it’s soft and lightly quilted and just right for a snuggly floor quilt for a baby.

Next up: I finished the French Braid quilt I started about four years ago. Finished! Done! (Also now listed on my Etsy) The odd thing about working on a quilt for this long is how much my tastes have changed. I still like this quilt, but I can’t imagine I’d do anything with such a deliberate lack of intention or form to the colour arrangements? I find that I much prefer sewing with a strong sense of purpose and a clearly defined outcome now. With this though I cut the strips for the chevrons (chevrons are one thing that hasn’t changed in my quilting) and then pulled them out more or less at random to sew together the blocks.

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This next one is the early stages of quilting together a top I’ve had sitting aside since last May. It’s the twin to the hexagon quilt I made last year: where that one went from a high density center to low density colour at the edges this does the opposite: I used the leftovers from the original to sew it. I’m doing a free motion quilting, same as before, but this time in a regular Gutermann thread, instead of the Sulky thread. Sulky thread gives an amazing finish and looks beautiful, but also broke anytime I changed speeds even slightly while quilting, meaning I had to rethread my machine about every 5-10 minutes through the whole 7+ hours of quilting.

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The patterns not being completely matched is annoying me slightly, I have to admit but it was the most efficient way to use the leftover fabric. I’ve quilted one sixth of this so far, which took just over an hour – the combination of pulling such an enormous mass of fabric around my machine and the extra effort required for free motion quilting anyway completely annihilated my mid-back, so I might have to pace myself when it comes to finishing this off.

I’m waiting on a gigantic order from Hawthorne Threads too, but I’ve told myself I’m not allowed to cut into it until I finished up this hexagon. I’m looking for the perfect 6″ drunkards path template set too, which is a tougher thing than you might think (I suspect I’m going to go for the Marti Mitchell templates) so I can’t cut into it until that arrives anyway. I’m excited to post my next project once it is underway though!

 

So This is Christmas

I feel as though everyone I know is out at a Christmas Party – meanwhile, I’m having my own Christmas celebration, including catching up on a long overdue post. First things first. My new studio space! I moved in and sewed some luxe-as-hell pink velvet curtains.

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The first thing I started sewing in the new space was a cream wool and gold leather sculptural coat inspired by an Alexander McQueen piece I saw in an exhibition in Melbourne last year. Here’s my inspiration wall (they allowed photography in the exhibit.)

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In typical me-fashion I basically sketched the pattern onto the fabric and started cutting.

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Pictured: my design process.

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The tea cup and tennis ball are crucial parts of the sewing process. (If you roll around on a tennis ball for 5-10 minutes your mid-back might forgive you for kneeling on a wooden floor for an hour.) I’m still working on the coat, but this week I’ve been watching cheesy Christmas movies and teaching myself padstitching techniques as I shape the upper. Also, here’s an in-progress shot of the button tab for the back and pinning the hair-canvas.

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Updates to follow! ( love a good WIP, don’t I?)

Also, I’ve started and very nearly finished a new quilt. This one has a time limit, so it’ll be done before Christmas. You might remember the post I made about the beautiful fabrics from Western Samoa which I felt conflicted about using. I wound up using some of them to make a quilt for a friend’s new nephew who has Samoan heritage: I felt that using them like this, in an exchange (I traded a quilt for one of his exceptionally beautiful paintings) was an appropriate way to make use of them.

I sewed most of the quilt top while staying with my Grandmother. Pre-washing and drying in the sun:

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I had to work with more limited tools, because there’s only so much you can pack in a suitcase. Here’s pressing and laying out the pattern:

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And backlit after sewing up.

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Updates pending! I’m determined to have some WIP finishes for 2015.

Shades of Green

Quite accidentally everything I’ve sewn or knitted lately has been one of many shades of green. I can’t seem to shake it. I’ve started knitting up the baby jumper I mentioned in my last post. It’s coming together well – it’d been a while since I made anything that had stocking stitch in it and I forgot how quickly it knits up. Most of this knitting was done in planes and airports – I got caught up in one of Melbourne’s famous storms and spent 2 hours sitting on a runway. Time flies when you’re almost finished the back of a cardigan though. Now I’m just knitting up the sleeves and swearing never to knit on anything smaller than a 3mm needle again. The sleeves of this are knit on a 2.5mm and I constantly feel like I’m about to bend the needles in two.

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While I was in Melbourne (before the skies opened and conspired to keep me stuck at the airport forever more) I stopped by Morris and Sons to get the wee little needles – I couldn’t find any in that size for love nor money in Wellington before I left (at least not without going off to dig through second hand stores). I love Morris and Sons – they have this gloriously light and airy feeling store with shelf upon shelf of yarn arranged by colour. My love of rainbow colour gradients is pretty well documented and being in their store is like having some deep part of my brain thoroughly massaged. I snapped a few photos while I was in there – only on my phone, so they don’t really do it justice – but still enough to capture some of the lovely warmth of the store.

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The other greens I’ve been working with have been the green and brown chevron quilt top I’ve been finishing off as part of my dedication to ploughing through my WIPs. To be honest I was a bit uninspired by this top when it was just individual blocks, but now I’ve pulled it together into a full quilt top I’m liking it a lot more. The final version is only going to be a wall or lap quilt – it should be around 48″ by 36″ and I’m quite looking forward to something which should come together so quickly. This and the pinwheel quilt I’ve been blogging about are both going to be up on my Etsy store when I’m done – although if you’d like me to hold one for you just shoot me an email (contact AT fukitu.com) and I can arrange that too!

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In less good news, I have to move out of my studio which I’m a bit heartbroken about – I love it, but the landlord is putting up the rent by more than we can justify paying (I share it with my partner.) I’m hoping something else comes along soon, because I don’t miss having quilting projects strewn across the lounge. I’m using this as a reason to be fairly brutal about which WIPs I think I will actually finish – moving back out is going to put space at a real premium so I’m trying not to hold onto half finished projects which I don’t have a hope of completing. What are other people’s thoughts on abandoning WIPs? I personally find it hard to let go of something I’ve invested so much time in, but there are some quilts where I can really see that my skill level has progressed so much that it’ll be quite obvious the quilt was completed over a fairly long time period.

One last picture before I take myself off to bed. I went a bit wild on the Hawthorne Threads website a few days ago and lo and behold, my parcel has already arrived! I’m pretty impressed – six days to be packed, shipped and arrive on the other side of the world is no mean feat. I was quite inspired by a lot of the Quiltcon images I saw on Instagram and decided to make my next project a colour gradient hexagon queen bed quilt – I did some preliminary sketches and I think this fabric should be enough for 2-3 quilts all in slightly different configurations. I’m banning myself from cutting into it until these WIPs are finished and listed in my Etsy store. The struggle is real.

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Quilting and Cultural Appropriation

I’ve been mulling this post over in my mind for ages and I’m still not 100% sure how to lay it out, but since I’ve been posting updates on my Indigo Pinwheels quilt which includes Japanese cottons as the main element I felt like it was timely.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about if it’s appropriate for me as a white woman to use fabrics which come from other cultures in my quilting. I know already that quilting has a problem with cultural appropriation – when I was looking, just as one of many examples, for a fabric with a skull print I kept being referred to fabrics with sugar skulls on them. There are already plenty of links which explain in detail why the Sugar Skull is culturally appropriative, especially used in this way – decorating a bolt of fabric, removed from its context, history, a time and place and with no acknowledgement of the history behind it. Personally, I’ve used recently some Japanese quilting cottons in my quilting, and a few months ago I visited Western Samoa and bought some lengths of fabric while I was there, including some Elei fabric (a style of printing traditionally used to decorate tapa cloth and more recently used on other fabrics) and some patterns which various people there told me are sometimes called Samoan but are more correctly identified as Hawaiian influenced.

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I think the main things I am considering are if there is a respectful way I can incorporate these fabrics into my work, or if it is inherently appropriative to use these fabrics from another culture in my sewing. I think the questions of Japanese and Samoan fabrics need to be considered separately. Among the things I want to think about (and I want to stress I am constantly growing and developing in my understanding, so if someone wants to correct me on this and has the energy to do it I would be only too grateful) are the relationship that my culture, as a white New Zealander has to the culture the fabrics come from, if the ways I am obtaining the fabrics materially benefit people from the culture they come from, crediting the origin of the fabrics appropriately and if they are being used in an appropriate way.

To be honest, I am more comfortable using Japanese cottons for a few reason: Japan has a history of quilting – including Sashiko quilting (a form of stitching reminiscent of many contemporary Japanese quilting cotton patterns), so I feel as though using the cottons in this way is appropriate to their intended and historical use. Also, New Zealand’s relationship with Japan doesn’t have the same colonialism inherent in our relationship with Western Samoa. Also, when I buy my Japanese cottons I try to buy them from stores either based in Japan, or owned by people with Japanese heritage so the proceeds from the sale of them are going to people with some relationship to the history of the designs. It doesn’t, and I’m aware this is a fairly nebulous way of putting it, feel appropriative to use the fabrics in this way because it is aligned with the use for which they were produced and my buying them feeds back into the economy of Japan.

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I’m more conflicted about using fabrics from Samoa. To start with, as far as I have been able to tell from my research, Western Samoa doesn’t have a quilting culture – American Samoa has some, largely introduced by missionaries. So the fabrics I have wouldn’t have been created with that end use in mind – I think that as uses  go quilting is fairly benign, but I would still prefer to use fabrics in a way aligned with their intended use. Also, Samoa has a history of being subjugated by New Zealand and I’m very aware of this imbalance of power when I consider if I have a right to use Samoan fabrics in my quilts. Samoa has only been independent from New Zealand since 1962, and New Zealand’s history with Samoa contains incidents like the Black Saturday shootings and the grossly racist Dawn Raids. It feels a lot more like the classic definition of appropriation – co-opting an attractive part of a culture without having to deal with the negative parts of having that identity (the poorer education and health outcomes Pasifika people experience in New Zealand because of systemic racism). For now, I’m keeping the fabrics in my stash because I don’t want to discard them and feel wasteful. One thing I am considering doing in the future is making a quilt from some of them and donating some of the proceeds from it to a Pasifika Womens Refuge or advocacy group.

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Home is Where the Camera Is

I’m home! Finally. And I have taken some more photos of the delightful circle/drunkards path quilt before it goes off to its new home. It was made for a friend whose new babe was born some months ago now, because I am a bit slow with these things sometimes, but conveniently it was her birthday a week ago, so I can probably pass it off under that guise and appear slightly less crap.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about quilting, and sewing and repetition. About what it means to give someone something handmade. All the thoughts have been churning around in my head for weeks, so expect this idea to be revisited and refined in future posts, but for now I want to talk, briefly and terribly, about repetition. Repetition as a concept has shown up a bunch in my studies. In my art history papers, because repetition is a key feature of art – performance art in particular. It also figures heavily in a lot of the Media Studies papers I’ve written. It crops up in a lot of Butler’s writing, about identity. This is probably the most academically vague and lazy thing I’ve ever allowed other people to read, but I’m curious about repetition in handmade items, handmade gifts. A quilt comprises hundreds of hours of cutting, sewing, breaking down large pieces into smaller bits then rebuilding them. There is a repetition to the cutting and sewing which imbues the finished product with meaning. A quilt isn’t just a gift of a blanket, it’s an indication that the recipient means enough to you to warrant a hundred hours of pricking yourself with another sodding safety pin.

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I feel (hope) that sometimes a quilt/knitted something can be a reminder that there are people who care about you. A quilt isn’t just a blanket, it’s a tangible ‘you can ask other people for help and many will gladly give it’. Wrap yourself up in a hundred hours of work from someone who had never met you, but was willing to be that when you appeared, tiny and screaming in the world, you would be a good person worthy of love and something cozy for the cold nights.

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Binding plus front

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My dreams of a studio, alas, have not come to fruition – so I’m still taking photos on my lounge room floor, strategically cropping my slippers out of the frame as I hold the camera above my head. I’ve started on a new quilt using the Japanese cottons from my last post and I’m waiting for my finances to pick up a little so I can order some fabrics for matching baby quilts.

Someone (I forget who – if you know please let me know in the comments) wrote a while back about mixing saturation and using that to distinguish light and darks and create visual interest in quilts. I’m broadly grouping my fabrics into lighter/darker and making pinwheel squares from them. I’m excited to see how this comes together.

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Lights Japanese Windmill