Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Everything IS BIGGER In Texas

The last week of February DH and I loaded up the trailer with all the collected needlework stash donations and we took off to deliver them to the ladies of Bastrop, Texas. You can read about the Texas Fire Relief Effort to help the sitchers of Bastrop and the surrounding communities over on the Stitchmap blog here.

The first day on the road we stopped for dinner at a wonderful restaurant. They advertised delicious food and a fun time. We weren't disappointed on either count.

One of their claims to fame is the free 72 oz. steak. It is free IF you can eat it all and all of the trimmings, too. I sure hope this fella didn't wind up on someone's plate the next week. He would have been pretty tough!

Of course, after wrestling with that steer I had to take a leisurely swing on the front porch in the warm evening sun before going inside to eat some vittles!

I was so full from the delish dinner (chicken fried steak, yummy!)that I just had to sit for a while in this rocker to let it digest. I can't put into words how tiny I felt in this rocking chair! But, let me tell you was a good feeling, lol. Perhaps the fella (it would have to be a man) who could eat that 72 oz. steak would fill up this chair but I felt like a flea in it.

We did consider staying at the hotel across the street for the night but it was a bit too rustic looking for me! We traveled on to keep our reservations a little further up the road.

I really want to thank the ladies of the Bastrop community for their hospitality over the next few days. We were treated to a reception at the home of Debbie H., taken on a guided tour of all the lovely shops downtown by Debbie and Lyn G., and we were invited to the Best Little Quilt Show in Texas on Friday in La Grange. I bought way too much at the vendor's booths there. The area's antique shops were also wonderful. My pocketbook got a bit lighter after I visited a few of those, lol.

I was inspired by the members of the community that I had a chance to meet. Everyone was gracious and friendly. The people of Bastrop really pulled together to help each other after the wildfires and they obviously know how to fill those big boots we always hear about. I was impressed with everyone I met and everything I saw.

Hugs, Shari

Thursday, March 15, 2012

March CQJP 2012 Block

This is the third in a series of landscapes I am doing for the CQJP 2012 project. I have entitled it Last Snow on the Prairie. The inspiration came from a recent snowfall that occured here in Colorado. Our prairie is actually high desert and the snow never hangs around. Instead, it blows around in the wind and disappears almost overnight most of the time. I wanted to capture that feeling of the rolling hills prairie dusted with snow and the newly greening century plants.

The mountains are cut from decorator upholstery fabrics and singed over a candle flame. They are stitched down using gold metallic Kreinik #4 fine braid. I am fond of the way these decorator fabrics give the impression of ridges and valleys. They frequently have different areas of texture and that always intrigues me...I am a texture junkie! The 'prairie' is a piece of drapery fabric from a sample book and it is covered with a piece of fine tulle lace curtain rescued from a thrift store. The sky is an old sheet I dyed and the patches of snow are motifs cut from yet another lace curtain and placed under the first overall piece of snow lace. I did purposefully leave some puckered up fabric in the center of the prairie to work around, hopefully it was going to simulate the little drifts of sand and dirt that are out on the grassland. I think it was fairly effective.

I used 3 different types of funky yarns for the tree line at the base of the mountains. The first is an olive green wooly type that I stretched out a bit and put down in about 3 places before covering it with the dark green chenille type fiber that simulates the pine tree that border a lot of our hills. I mostly used fly stitches to hold these fibers in place. The last fiber is a brown/tan/dark brown metallic blend that sets right underneath the dark green. It adds depth to the block and begins the sparkle of the snow. I also used a blending filament from Kreinik to randomly wrap and tack the tulle lace to the foundation. It doesn't show in the picture too well, in my opinion. But, it is sparkly like ice crystals in person, I promise, lol.

The gully grass is another funky fiber that is rather 'fringey' and grasslike. I used a double row closer to the middle and front of the block. I tapered it off to a single strand nearer to the mountains to show distance and perspective.

Several people have asked where I find these fibers. Most of them are purchased at yarn shops as specialty yarns on the ball. I have also then at needlework shops on long display cards. These cards usually have 6-7 different types of funky fibers wound on one card, in about 2-3 yard lengths, which is more than sufficient for several projects. However, I like to send these fibers out in Swaps with my sister stitchers so I usually buy the balls of fibers/yarn at the yarn shop so I have plenty to share. It is amazing the collection you can acquire through swaps and you can afford to be generous by sending along a couple of yards or more because you will never use up all that is on most of those balls! On occassion I have found these fibers at the thrift stores also - for pennies on the dollar. Also available at the thrift store are scarves already knit from these fibers and I have even been known to unravel some of the wonderfully soft scarves because I could get the scarf for 50 cents - $1 and there is a lot of funk in one scarf, ROFLOL.

The distant trees are perle cotton and/or DMC embroidery floss for the most part. They are done in feather stitch, chain stitch and wrapped chain or straight stitches. The main tree is a selection of about 6 funky fibers in browns, black, grey and tans. I believe there are some eyelash yarns, chenilles, silky ribbon types and some corded eyelash types in the mix. I also added in several pieces of #8 perle cotton. I nevercount the number of threads. I usually go for color and the size trunk I can twist with what I have pulled out. If it is too small for the project I add more. If it is too large I put a few back in the drawer. I twisted the fibers together a little like one would wring out a rag. I then pinned the trunk portion down to the block with straight pins and proceeded to splay the loose ends into roots and branches, always working the thicker threads backward into the branch or trunk when I needed to go forward with just the thinner fiber for the tapering brnaches. The outer branch/twig system is single strand overdyed embroidery floss in feather stitching. There are some things to consider when making a tree. For instance, nothing needs to be perfectly smooth because most barks are not, so feel free to tack the fibers down with strong stitches that will pull the fibers into nooks and crannies. Remember that the new growth at the end of the branches is tender and usually greener or lighter browns than the rest of the tree because they reflect the light more readily. Lastly, when adding the feather stitching try to add some along the side of the branch and not just at the ends. These would bcome next year's midsized branches.

The snow was added along the branches and into the V crevices by using tiny snippets of #12 and #8 white perle cotton couched down with white floss. In some cases, like the distant trees, I even used just floss in varying plies to add the snow to the trees. My husband suggested that the bark was rough and therefore, would catch snow in the crevices in the wind, so I added some to the trunk of the main tree and I think his suggestion was spot on. Generally, I do not stitch these snippets through the fabric bcause it wears on the fibers so much. I just snip them and couch them down and pierce them with embroidery floss to securely hold in place.

The century plants stay on the prarie year around here in Colorado. They are always in different stages of maturity. New growth is light green and as the plant ages the spike knife-like 'leaves' get darker and darker until they turn brown. The spike of white pod-like flowers are dried and turn toa woody brown by late summer. They stay dark brown throughout the winter, often falling off the plant in the wind. So, I added French knot 'pods' on a single spiked stem to some, but not all, of the plants. I also tried to make the plants seem more distant by making them decrease to a smaller size as they neared the mountains.

The finishing prairie elements are the rocks added to the gully and to the base of the tree. I began by making 3 stumpwork rocks from wadsof rust dyed cheesecloth. It was fun to stitch these in hand and then when attaching them to the block I took a couple of tight stitches on them to give them dimples/ridges. They are so small it doesn't show in the photo real well but in person, against the ultra smooth real rocks I stitched down. These cheesecloth rocks look very weathered and I really like them. I expect to use this technique again on future blocks.

The final step was to add some clear sequins and some seed beads to the snow patches to make them shine a bit like glistening snow. Again, the lighting when taking the photo, does not show this to the best effect but it is definitely there.

I enjoyed doing this block very much. I was stitching snow onto that tree all the way from Indiana to Kansas! Thank goodness DH stopped at the Russell Stover chocolate candy factory in Kansas. I got distracted and the block didn't get to looking like a blizzard had hit, lol. I think I must go get another piece from the box now.

Thanks to everyone for their kind comments regarding the series I am doing. Your support is a powerful motivator.

Hugs, Shari

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

February CQJP 2012 Vineyard Block

This is the second in the landscape series I am stitching up for the CQJP 2012 sponsored by Kathy Shaw. Click the button on my side bar if you would like to see more beautiful blocks from all over the world.

I have tried to create the feeling of looking down on the vineyards in Northern California. The scene was inspired by two different things. One was an advertisement for wine that I saw showing a landscape of vineyards. It had a large glass of wine overlaying the scene and the colors caught my attention. The ad also inspired me another way and now the glass of wine is gone, lol. secondly, I have family members that live in the northern part of California so I have visited the area a few times. This is supposed to be a composite of things I remember most from that scenic area. I hope you all get a similarly good feeling after viewing this block and that it might inspire you to visit the beautiful fields in California's wine country.

Here is a little bit about how I went about creating this block. Keep in mind that the construction and piecing was done at home and the stitching was all done as I was traveling in a truck on my way to Bastrop, Texas to deliver the Fire Relief Donatons. I had to do some stitching that didn't require percision so the stiches used are very simple ones.

First I chose my sky and mountain fabrics. Then I placed the sky fabric down on my foundation muslin. Next I worked on developing the rows of 'dirt & grape vines'. For this block I had a minimal amount of fabric available to me to use for those rows and I had to decide how to get as much use out of it as possible. I wasn't going to be able to seam the strips together and have enough fabric to make the width of the block even. To remedy that I threw in a wider strip of fabric for the dirt road. I would have liked to have a bit more of a vanishing point for the rows and the road but my fabric shortage dictated a wider vanishing point line. I also had to plan on how low to set the strips and still get a properly placed horizon line. You will note that the horizon line tilts a bit to the left, as do the rows on the left side of the road. I hoped this would give you the feeling of being on a rolling hill side. I wonder if I succeeded?

I butted the strips up to one another (much like you would do when working with wool patches) and I basted them in place at the bottom of the block (allowing for my seam allowance) until I could figure out the mountain placements.

I cut the mountain shapes free hand with the rotary cutter from batik fabrics. Once I had a pleasing arrangement I pinned them in place and determined the direction the light would be 'coming from'. I used cotton embroidery floss throughout the stitching on this block. The mountains and the final row of chain stitches on the vines were done in over-dyed flosses. Feather stitches were used to highlight and texture the mountains and the road. I joined the rows by using a tiny blanket stitch for the first layer of stitches and at the same time I added my very fine black tulle for the shadows between rows and on the road. The vines are built up in layers of fly stitch, chain stitch, fly stitch again and more chain stitches to give some depth to their appearance. I used a varying number of plies of floss for this so there would be some texture throughout the vines.

The next step was to creat some distant trees using elongated fly stitches and some whipped backstitches for the trunks and branches. In front of those I placed some irregularly spaced long straight stitches for the hint of some fencing. Over that I laid a long strip of a funky wooly fiber that I tacked down - hoping it would look like a bank of bushes. The tree tops on the larger trees are made from a multicolored yarn that I pulled apart and distorted. It is held in place with tiny fly stitches to simulate branches. Somethought was given to placement of the lighter shades of green so the light direction would remain constant. The smaller trees have some shredded/pulled cheese cloth foliage.

when I am having a day of plaing with dyes I use snall rags/swatches of cheese cloth for wiping up any spills, cleaning out my dyeing bowls/jars, etc. I heat set the colors with the iron. I keep the rags and then use that cheese cloth for lots of things in my needlework. It is a fun and easily controlled fabric to work with in this manner. You can get some pretty ugly and dirty looking swatches but they tear off into great pieces for use on trees, as rocks, seaweed, etc.

The last element to be added to the block was the beading along the vines. I used a mixture of seed beads in golds, pinks and purples to simulate grapes ready for harvest.

I am pretty happy with the way this block turned out considering I had to do most of the actual stitching in the truck. DH was really good about letting me use his side of the cup holder for holding my scissors, needle book, etc. I used my cup to hold the floss cards. It sure made the time pass quickly on the ride to Texas.

Hugs, Shari