This is my type of hardware

IMG_0202 detail croppedAs the subtitle of my blog points out, most of the things I make use fabric. And if not fabric, I work with other supple items like yarn, paper, ribbon, etc. To mix things up, last month a friend and I went to paint pottery. You know the kind of place ─ shelves of manufactured bisqueware waiting for people to add their personal touch via ceramic paint. What’s nice about painting this pottery is that unlike pottery you make yourself (or should I say, unlike pottery I make), you start with a perfect canvas. And before you begin you know exactly what shape and size it’ll be. The items are usually functional and when you’re done they are truly one of a kind.

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Grey mug with hints of spring

While a blank canvas can be intimidating, this time I wasn’t paralysed with indecision. First I chose my object. I decided to decorate an oversize mug because the mug I have at work doesn’t hold nearly enough tea. Then, before I even sat down to consider design options, I saw a stencil of roses on a vine and right away I knew what I wanted to do: a ring of flowers and leaves near the lip of the cup. Not feeling particularly funky, I used predictable but pretty colours. The spring green is a shade I love, and then I chose a pink to go with it.

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Oversize mug next to a 10 oz water glass

The shop’s fired colour swatches were not as bold or intense as the paint on my finished mug. Thinking the floral pattern might get lost or look washed out against white, I painted the background dove grey. I’m not sure I’d to that again, in part because I think the pink and green would have looked great on white, plus the glazed white is so clean and appealing. The handle was originally going to have more vine and roses but I didn’t have enough time to paint another 4 inches of pattern. That turned out to be a good thing because I love the solid splash of colour sticking out from the side of the mug.

View from the top

Staff at the shop told us that to get opaque colour we’d have to apply 3 coats of paint. You can see that the colour in the detail work is more opaque than the grey wash that covers the rest of the mug (click on any photo for a larger image) even though I applied 3 coats everywhere. The difference is that on the large area I unknowingly applied thin layers of paint, whereas for the detail section I used a smaller brush that pretty much deposited little blobs of colour with each pass.

After 3 layers of paint and 2.5 hours of effort the mug was fired and ready to be picked up 4 days later. Finally, I inaugurated the mug with a cup of herbal tea. My review of the mug as a functional object is that it’s lightweight, comfortable to hold, and so large that I can’t see over or around it when I drink. My review of the mug as an object of art is that I love the look of it and have a small feeling of satisfaction every time I look at it.

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My Tom Thomson tree

Mary Pal, who is famous for her cheesecloth portraits, has developed another use for cheesecloth in quilts and in June I was lucky enough to take her inaugural class called Gatineau Spring.

This is Mary’s class sample.

When I signed up for the class I hadn’t even seen the sample; I simply wanted to learn a new technique. The quick summary of what we did is this. Using Mary’s pattern as a template I built the tree from cheesecloth and “painted” the background and backing fabrics with Caran D’ache Neocolor II watersoluble wax pastels. Then I appliquéd the tree to the background, and sandwiched, turned, and quilted the thing. Now here’s the long version, with pictures.

The tree trunk and leaves were constructed from Linda Palaisy’s hand-dyed cheesecloth. The green in the picture on the right is the original green. By the time I thought to take the picture with the layers separated (picture on the left) I had already darkened the leaves by painting with colour I had lifted from the wax pastels. The brown for the tree trunk is unchanged.

We used the backing fabric as a test sample for drawing and colouring the background fabric, as well as practicing transforming the wax pastels into watercolour. The photo on the left (below) is my backing, the middle picture is what the background fabric looked like immediately after class, and the picture on the right is my final background. As was the case with the Setacolor fabric paints, no matter how vibrant the colours look when they’re wet they are quite a bit paler when dry. My solution was to apply additional colour to this background multiple times. Once I was satisfied with the background I assessed the composition by placing the tree overlay onto the background, and it was then I decided to darken the leaves.

In the picture of the trees higher up in this post you can see the bits of cheesecloth I used to make the grass. I wasn’t happy with how chunky and scraggly the bits looked so instead I filled in the areas with machine stitching (see the last 2 pictures in this post). Is this thread painting? Is it embroidery? I don’t know what to call it but I prefer it to the cheesecloth.

As for finishing the quilt, like Mary I didn’t want to bind this little art-style quilt so I did a pillowcase turn. Once the quilt was turned I fused a piece of interfacing to the underside of the slit. Because I had never done a pillowcase turn before I had limited confidence that I’d be able to sew the slit closed without distorting the backing. After all, there was no ease in the back to allow for a seam allowance. The slit will be hidden by a rod pocket so as long as it holds well I’m not too concerned about how it looks.

Quilting time. I would have loved to have uses variegated thread for the land and water, but except for the gold/brown you see in the second picture below, the other variegated threads in my stash all have a rayon-like sheen and I didn’t want the threads to literally shine. Luckily I had enough coloured threads in my stash to match the different shades of rock in the foreground and I changed my top thread as I moved from section to section. This is the first time I’ve used more than a couple of different threads in a project and I’m happy with the results. The sky was quilted with invisible thread, which is why the photograph doesn’t show much of the quilting in the top half of the piece.

I really enjoyed making this quilt (proof of this is that the quilt is finished in less than 2 months and not sitting in my UFO pile) and am happy with the result.

If you’re wondering why I called this My Tom Thomson tree, it’s because Mr. Thomson, a famous Canadian painter, painted landscapes that undoubtedly inspired Mary’s design.

Tom Thomson’s The West Wind (1917), left, and Jack Pine (1917), right.