Improvisation #2

This is the second “beans” experiment finished. I used a different stitch to edge stitch each swatch which worked better than the blanket stitch (the small fraying threads are contained). This time, the revised signature is a bit larger and actually readable! There are still one or two edits I want to make on the signature but it’s working better now.

On to another idea – a “flower” collage on raw silk – just to see what that turns out like in a 6″ x 6″ piece. I also want to create couple of crazy-quilt blocks to see what they turn out like.

Back to work.

The Season Is Changing

Two days ago you could sense the impending change – the air smelled different, the colour softer/less glaring. Here in Nova Scotia there is one day in middle of August where you know autumn is not far off. When we were kids, we attended a six week sleep-over camp and in that last week there’d be a day when you knew summer was coming to a close. You felt the early morning chill, put on a warmer jacket that evening.

Five Islands

Every year on that August day I think of Alistair MacLeod’s short story “The Closing Down Of Summer” (in As Birds Bring Forth The Sun and Other Stories). I’ve mused about that story before. MacLeod begins:

It is August now, towards the end, and the weather can no longer be trusted. All summer it has been very hot. So hot that the gardens have died and the hay has not grown and the surface wells have dried to dampened mud. The brooks that flow to the sea have dried to trickles and the trout that inhabit them and the inland lakes are soft and sluggish and gasping for life. …

At the end of July we said to ourselves and to each other, “The August gale will come and shatter all of this.” The August gale is the traditional storm that comes each August, the forerunner of the hurricanes that will sweep up from the Caribbean and beat and lash this coast in the months of autumn. The August gale with its shrieking winds and crashing muddied waves has generally signalled the unofficial end of summer and it may come in August’s very early days. But this year, as yet, it has not come and there are only a few days left. Still we know that the weather cannot last much longer and in another week … the pace of life will change. 

Alistair MacLeod

Today it’s overcast and cool. The kids have all come through their summer camping experiences safely – they’re home again; sad summer is over, looking ahead to the adventures of a new school year.

My younger sister was moaning the other day about the shortening days. I think about the cosmic realities that govern our seasonal life. The earth’s tilt as it rotates around the sun affects the angle at which the sun’s radiation impacts the planet – the northern hemisphere is now entering the annual period where we’re angled away from the sun. Those shorter days are predetermined – out of our hands – set in motion when our solar system formed five billion years ago. No point in complaining, no point in wishing it were otherwise. The changing seasons bear witness to our connection to the universe.

The chicory/goldenrod/Queen Anne’s lace, are abundant, but coming to an end – in another six weeks we’ll see trees responding to the seasonal change. There are warm days still to come – our Nova Scotia fall is the loveliest of our seasons. I look forward to it every year.

The Invitation

I’m organizing our December show at The Ice House. Usually I do a winter theme but this year I’m changing it to a miniature show. There’s no theme so everyone is free to do whatever they like! The only requirement is that all the work is 6” x 6” in size. 

My immediate reaction was to reply “Thanks for thinking of me, but I don’t work with anything that small…” however as I considered Brandt’s invitation I thought “that’s an interesting challenge” so I began playing with an idea.

6″ x 6″ – #2

I cut out a 10.5″ x 10.5″ square of white fabric, then went to the box of scraps with fusible web already applied, pulled out the bag with red/orange/golden bits and cut out “bean” like shapes. I drew a centre 6″ x 6″ block, then filled the space.

6″ x 6″ – #1

This is actually the first block I tried – after fusing the beans in place I edge stitched each, changing thread colour as I went along. The stitching took time, but it went reasonably quickly – fast enough that it was worth trying more (hence the second incomplete panel above).

Each piece needs to be signed. I sign my work with a machine embroidered signature. On a piece as small as this, the signature needs to be small! I spent several hours trying various fonts in my embroidery software but none is set up to create a stitched signature small enough. I wrote out my signature, tried using it as background to create an embroidery – those didn’t stitch out well either. I went back the lettering function on my machine – I got closer but size is still a problem.

After stitching a dozen or so variations of a signature (Newman 2022) I settled on one which I tested a couple of times.

Embroidery for Signature

Although I had tested the embroidery, when I finally added it to the completed panel it didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped. You can barely discern what’s there. So it’s back to the drawing board to see if I can work out something better.

The second challenge is how to finish each 6″ x 6″ piece – Brandt suggested I try mounting them over a 6″ x 6″ canvas – so I’ve ordered a dozen in that size to see whether that can work.

In the meantime, I have a bunch of ideas – appliqué flowers in this small format based on those I’ve done before, crazy-quilt blocks, tiny quilt blocks using a variety of piecings,… there are lots of possibilities. In the end Brandt wants up to 10 pieces of art – I’ll likely end up making quite a few more than that as I experiment with the size.

I had been wondering what to work on next!

Creating With The Sun

I spent the weekend in Parrsboro doing a workshop learning to work with Cyanotype:

The cyanotype process uses a mixture of iron compounds, which when exposed to UV light and washed in water oxidise to create Prussian Blue images. The technique was invented in 1841 by Sir JohnHerschel and was popularised by photographer and botanist Anna Atkins. Her book ‘Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions’, published in October 1843, is considered the first photographically illustrated book.


Two of my Cyanotypes from Second Day

The process starts by coating a good quality acid-free watercolour paper (or other paper like tissue paper) with a UV reacting iron salts solution (which is nearly clear), hanging it to dry in a relatively dark (non UV) spot, when dry arranging objects on it, then exposing the layout to sunlight until the wash become a brownish grey at which point you rinse the image in a water bath (with a couple of capfuls of vinegar) until the “yellow” unexposed parts become reasonably “white”, then rinsing it in a second bath with a bit of hydrogen peroxide to fix the blue – the cyanotype.

Sounds easy, not so much. The quality of the paper matters, the accuracy with which you combine the solutions used in the coating, how you apply it, the amount of light where the paper dries, whether you’ve managed to keep it in a dark place after it’s dried – those are some of the technical variables that affect image outcome.

Then comes composition. My first inclination was to use quite a few different objects of varying transparency layered on one another –

Mine are the ones in the centre of each row – Day 1

I’d raided my sewing supplies and brought all kinds of lace, sequins, tissue paper (with glitter), feathers, beads, knitting stitch markers…. all of which would blocked sunlight. I tried arranging wildflowers and grasses with these inanimate items only to discover the rings/tissue paper/lace all blocked the sun more effectively leaving much stronger white areas on the image detracting from the “subject” – the wildflowers!

I also placed all of my objects beneath a layer of glass (primarily to keep the lighter items from being moved by the wind – because you need a relatively long exposure time – 3-5 minutes (maybe longer – it’s subjective). The first thing I realized was that maple leaves/lace, placed under glass blocked too much UV light. I was going to have to experiment with placing those objects on top of the glass and removing them part way through the exposure. By the end of the afternoon I also understood I really wanted fewer items so I could highlight a definite subject. Hence the trials on the second day.

On the first day we used a high quality paper supplied to us. Second day, I used watercolour paper I had brought (not so good) – it reacted with the coating solution differently than the better paper and the resulting image had less contrast.

Queen Anne’s Lace with Angelina Fibres and Glitter

Next I experimented with objects under glass vs items on top –


The print on the left is an impression of a Moth Mullein – delicate petals allowing light through, you can see where they overlapped. Further down the stem are finished flowers which are much denser, hence they blocked more light. At the bottom of the image you can just detect a “card” with holes – that was placed on top of the glass at the start of the exposure, but removed about half way through.

The print on the right – another Queen Anne’s Lace and a sprinkling of glitter below the glass, some leaves (don’t remember what they were from) placed on top, then removed – which gives a better balance to the image.

I was also interested in allowing the brushstrokes to show rather than completely coating the paper giving the image an unfinished organic feel.

I learned a lot. I had hoped to try fabric for some cyanotypes but it has to be prepared differently (washed in a non-calcium containing detergent, dried – then soaked in the iron salts solution (somewhat different proportions), dried again, before the pieces can be exposed. I had thought I’d do some fabric blocks to embellish with appliqué and thread painting but I would have difficulty doing this at home I realized – I get very little direct sunlight on my balcony (I get an early morning sun at a low sky angle until just before 10:00am at midsummer); to work on my friend Deb’s patio of an afternoon to get a higher sun means I’d have to set up the developing wash basins in her kitchen (trying to darken the room, not to expose the paper/cloth further) before rinsing and fixing. All a lot more complicated than I think I want to bother with.

But you never know.

Not Your Grandmother’s Quilts!

Today I hung my quilts and wall pieces at the Art Labs Studios & Gallery in Parrsboro. I didn’t hang everything I took with me, opting for the “less is more” principle. Nevertheless, I’m delighted with how the show looks.

I spent the afternoon as “artist in residence” to chat with folks who dropped by for the “opening” – there were probably a dozen visitors who stopped to look, half of whom actually wanted to learn more about the works themselves. Lovely conversations with each of them.

This year, I wanted to show the new quilts produced since last summer as well as a “retrospective” of what I refer to as “the portrait” pieces – the wall art based on my photos where I print elements of a photo on fabric and embed them in a pieced background. The initial reaction is always that you’re looking at a photo and then only when you step closer do you see you’re viewing a textile/thread piece.

The show hangs until late in the afternoon of August 18 in Parrsboro NS.

121 Main Street, Parrsboro NS

If you’re considering a day trip to Parrsboro make sure to stop for lunch at The Pier / Harbourview Restaurant in Parrsboro. Ruby and I went there just to have their lobster roll – it won’t disappoint you!

Lobster Roll (after taking a big bite!)

A nicely toasted (buttered) hotdog bun FILLED with chunks of fresh lobster seated on some lettuce (OK, so there wasn’t any chopped celery, but we didn’t complain because there was so much lobster). We added a single kids’ portion of fries which we shared (just enough for two without having to feel guilty about eating them).

We started with the deep fried battered dill pickle – yes you got that right – a Pier Restaurant invention, I think. Crazy but surprisingly tasty. Ruby had never had anything like it so I ordered some. Comes with tartar sauce for dipping.

Deep Fried Battered Dill Pickle

On our way back to the city we stopped at “The Egg Lady” – to pick up 5 dozen fresh eggs for a friend of mine. Laid today, they’ll last her for several weeks.

The Egg Lady

We didn’t stop at Five Islands Lighthouse Park today, or go up the hill to That Dutchman Cheese Farm. We did stop at Masstown Market for chili for a light supper on the way home to round out the day. (You could have a terrific order of Fish and Chips at their Fish and Chip Boat if you can handle more fried food).

In spite of some rain, we had a lovely day.

Two New Tops

I made another knit top after finding this striped cotton knit in my stash – the last cotton knit in that drawer. I added a bit of flare because the knit was light with a soft drape. However, the fabric was difficult to work with, I made sure I had stretch needles in my serger, my quilter and the coverstitch machines, but the fabric edges curled forcing me to pin closely at the edges in order to have the seam edge lay flat! I’ve gotten very used to not having to pin – taking time to pin the edges practically doubled my sewing time.

And it’s a very warm day today so I decided to wear the heirloom top. I didn’t realize I’d set it up with a slightly dropped shoulder (that’s because I drafted the pattern from my other lightweight cotton top which has a dropped shoulder) but if I don’t say anything about it, nobody but an experienced sewer would notice it. It will be comfortable on this hot day. (This is the best of several photos I took – I didn’t manage to smile in this one which was the clearest image of the shirt!).

Socks and Heirloom Top

I also finished the latest pair of socks (added to the give-away stash) and the pull-on shirt I made using the heirloom panel I created a couple of weeks ago. I’ve since added five small mother of pearl buttons to the centre of the heirloom embroidery to draw attention to the stitching. It’s a light, loose hot summer day shirt. The only problem – the fabric I used for the heirloom panel is a slightly yellower colour than the rest of the shirt. Nobody will notice it. And I’m hoping a washing or two with oxyclean will whiten so the panel will blend with the rest of the shirt!

Patience & Perseverance

My patience and perseverance were tested yesterday. The other day, I pulled out some Marcy Tilton t-Shirt fabric I’d bought last year – time to use it to make up a couple of shirts. I went through my collection of t-Shirt patterns and decided to try out the Connie Crawford’s “Perfect Knit Sloper” that I’d picked up a couple of months ago. When the sloper arrived, I opened it, and drafted a sloper on Swedish cloth, using my measurements. This is the first time I’m trying out this sloper so I know I’m making a muslin.

I cut out a t-Shirt – using Janet Pray’s technique for turning a t-Shirt into a “swing” shirt (a shirt that is flared at the bottom)(15:25 – 21:55 on the video). Cut a couple of pieces of grosgrain ribbon a bit longer than the shoulder seam (to stabilize the shoulder), then serged the shoulder seams. So far so good. Next comes the neckband. I cut out the neckband the size suggested in the sloper pattern and serged it to the neckline. First problem – I had a couple of spots where I didn’t have the neckline and band aligned perfectly – I opened those spots and restitched them.

Tried on the garment to see how the neckline looked – dreadful – the band stuck out in the front – the band was too long. I thought the neckline was a bit higher than I liked, so I carefully removed the neckband (being extremely careful not to cut or pick the fabric), recut the neckline 1 1/2″ lower in the front, then reattached the neckband. The band was still too long, so I carefully removed it (being extremely careful not to cut or pick the fabric), shortened it by 2″, distributed the fullness of the garment neckline (stretching the band as I attached it to make it fit), basted the two together this time, then once I was sure I had the band and neckline aligned, I serged the seam! Finally the band laid flat and the fabric edges matched. I pressed the band seam toward the garment and top stitched it (to hold the seam allowance flat on the t-Shirt) 1/8mm from the seam using a narrow-edge foot.

Now to attach the sleeves. I carefully aligned the right sleeve with the sleeve opening on the t-Shirt, sewed it in place – didn’t like the sleeve header – the top of the sleeve stood up rather than lay flat. I unpicked the serged seam, flattened the top curve of the sleeve an inch, reattached it (this time basting it first) then serging the seam. I recut the second sleeve and serged it.

I serged the side seams; they were fine, until I tried on the shirt – too much flare! So I removed a wedge from bottom portion of the side seams.

Last, I used my coverstitch machine to do the bottom and sleeve hems (stitching a wee bit narrower than the fold and trimming back to the seam using my handy duckbill scissors.

Wearing the Finished t-Shirt

“Why?” you might ask do I bother making t-Shirts – because I can’t buy t-Shirts with sleeves long enough to cover my old lady arms.

This t-Shirt turned into a L-O-N-G project. I was determined not to give up and throw the whole thing in the garbage! But constructing it – a muslin, I kept reminding myself – definitely pushed my patience and perseverance to the limit! I wore it today and got complements on it.

Sewing the second t-Shirt was simple and straightforward – I made the adjustments to the sloper pattern, cut it out, basted, then serged the seams. The neck band lays flat, the sleeves headers are smooth, it’s not too full at the bottom.

The View – Completed

I still have to stitch the hidden binding on the back but other than that, this project is finished. Yesterday I’d finished applying the piping and border only to realize I’d forgotten the light inner “matte”! Having cut the piece to size I wasn’t going to take it apart and rework it. Besides, the contrast between piping/border makes the image itself pop quite nicely.

I’m definitely happy with how the gals worked out on the bench and that I was able to show their bums on the seat. Not obvious in the photo is the shadow under and behind the bench which grounds the gals – it’s much more obvious in the piece itself.

I’ll work on the hand stitching later this afternoon. That’s it for “portrait” wall art pieces for now. Time to move on to more garment sewing.

The Wedding Gown

I said to myself, before I started these alterations, if I ruin the dress, I’ll replace it! That gave me the courage to proceed.

I started with the front opening. Michelle is tall, very thin, with a small bosom. So when she moved, the front gaped and she felt exposed. I wanted to stitch the opening closed but she was adamant the opening remain.

I shopped for a bit of nude mesh which I found at Fabricville. I cut a triangle long enough to support the gap further toward the neckline, pinned it in place then hand stitched it (very small stitches with Aurifil 50wt thread in white). Can’t see my stitches. I stitched the edges of the triangle on the inside as well. Then I added a sheer white polyester bias tape across the top edge to prevent the mesh from stretching much. That should do the job.

Second, I took up the shoulder straps an inch. I though I’d have to carefully remove beads and pearls, but I got away without having to do that – I was able to fold the strap 1/2″ and stitched the fold securely to itself. You have to look very closely to see where that join is. That adjustment should help with how the neckline fits as well.

Finally the two nude inner skirts. First, I had to figure out the length of the innermost skirt at the front, mark that length around the whole thing then cut it being VERY careful not to cut the lace and tulle layers. Next, measure the second skirt 2″ longer and cut it. I think the two skirts are still bit long in the centre back (that’s because at the waist the inner skirts dip down about an inch and a half below the centre front) but I was afraid to cut the skirts too short – we can always cut more – I can’t add back what I cut off!

I’ve decided not to hem the bottom edge – this dress will be worn once, the fabric doesn’t fray, and no point in doing a turned hem if I have to cut off more.

So far, I don’t think I’ve ruined the dress. I’d say, it’s done until Michelle tries it on. If I’m lucky she’ll be happy with my alterations – my wedding gift to her.