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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Pictures on Quilts

I'm about to undertake a type of quilting I've never done before - making a person's face out of fabric and quilting it.

I'm starting small, with a photo of my beloved departed Mommy. The piece shoud finish around ten to twelve inches square, and if it turns out as lovely as it does in my imagination, I will frame it and hang it up. And make some more, to give to my dad and brother and my daughter.

Lots of people are following the fad of putting photos on quilts using the "fabric" that can go through an inkjet printer. I don't know if it's just the particular types I've tried, but I find that this fabric is very stiff and looks seriously out of place in a quilt. And it's prohibitively expensive - one couldn't, for example, make an entire quilt out of the stuff, it would cost gigabucks. And feel stiff all over, instead of in a few places!

I saw one technique for using fabric to make realistic images on Sewing with Nancy about three years ago. It seems very complicated the way that guest described it, but since I'm a graphic artist in my day job, I realized very quickly this was the kind of thing Photoshop was great at.

The technique she described, as best I remember it, goes like this:

Pick your photo and scan it, but scan it in black-and-white. This was intended to identify the COLOR DENSITY of areas of the photo. As you know from your quilting experience, the density (or richness) of the color is one tool for determining contrast. And it's easier for us to see difference in density if we're looking at a black-and-white sample, because most people aren't graphic artists and have difficulty seeing color density among all the choices of colors in front of us. (Also, most people don't have Photoshop lying around on their computers!)

Okay, we have our black-and-white image. Next step is to "posterize" the picture in the computer. That means telling the computer to simplify this image, make it out of only, say, 16 different densities of black, instead of millions.

Now, I believe the guest on the show was using a quilting software for this, but I could be mistaken. But most software that comes with a scanner or a digital camera will have this function somewhere - you just have to poke around a bit to find it. The good thing is, this is working on a scanned image, so you can't hurt the original! If you're really obsessive, you can make a copy of the scan, so in case your poking does something you can't "undo" to the scan, you have another copy to start over on!

I think the guest posterized her photo at 8 densities. For faces, I think you may want to do between 12 or 16.

Now comes the fun part. (By "fun", I mean "complicated".)

She then had the computer turn the image into squares. In the version of Photoshop I have, that would be the Mosaic filter. Then she got her computer to number each section according to density. Yes, this is exactly like a paint-by-number canvas. I haven't found a way to get Photoshop to do this, which is why I think she was using specialized software.

Okay, what you end up with is a picture made up of 8 different densities of black (or 12 or 16), which, if you look at it from a distance, looks like your photo.

Then you print out the pattern that has the numbers on it, and now you go to select your fabrics.

Okay, now we're into color here. She lays her fat quarters down and moves them around in relation to each other from lightest to darkest. She stressed that this takes time. She suggested you take your line of fabrics and make a black-and-white photocopy of them, or scan them as black-and-white, to assist you in figuring out the density. Then it becomes a simple matter of matching the densities of the color fabric to the numbers in your photo, and you're ready to piece.

Well, "simple" may not be the word...

Now, my geek husband watched me working on this, went away, and came back with the same photo of my Mom, in color, in blocks, that looked amazing. Seems the NEW photoshop version has a filter called...

... wait for it...


Sigh. It's almost too easy!

Vinegar is your friend - an update on washing your fabrics

Well, it turns out that the lady whose fabric had bled in her white quilt HAD washed her fabric before using it!

She came over and together we took a fresh piece of the dark pink, wet it, put it in a white cloth and - Presto! - white became pink.

She bought this fabric at a quilt specialty store, and carefully washed it, dried it, and ironed it before using it. She'd used it in other quilts, too - colored ones though, not white backgrounds.

Well, I'd done some searching for ways to stop bleeding and ways to remove unwanted color, and all answers point to vinegar.
While she was here, we tried two different methods for removing color: one is a mixture of vinegar, detergent, and water; and the other is straight vinegar. Both had mild success. Then we tested a new bit of the dark pink - carefully put vinegar on a section that had not previously run (with Q-tips) until it was quite wet. After a few minutes I took a cloth wet with only water and smudged it around, and it did not bleed.

So, we've determined that I shall finish the quilting, then when it comes time, soak the entire quilt in pure vinegar, before finally washing it in water with some vinegar added to the wash.

And keep our fingers crossed!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Make your own pantographs

There is nothing mysterious about a pantograph. It's a pattern. Oh sure, it's a LARGE pattern - if you own a longarm or shortarm quilting machine, it's on a stand six to twelve feet wide. There's a shelf that runs over the entire sewing area - a shelf that doesn't support much weight, because it's only meant to support the pantograph - a long piece of paper, basically!

But you cans use all the old-fashioned techniques to make your own pantographs: From hand-tracing your pattern, to sewing without thread in your machine through layers of paper, to stamping and photocopying.

Just measure the size of your quilt block. (If you're not using blocks, just measure the size or sizes of the areas you want to fill with quilting.)

If your finished block is ten inches wide, and you have a four-inch stencil or pattern that you really like, you can use any method you like to enlarge the pattern to five inches, or to just below five inches if you want to leave some space.

These days, a lot of people scan a pattern and print it out at different sizes. You tell your computer (or your husband or teenager) to make you printouts at 125%, 137%, or 0.92%.... Start with 125%, 150%, 175%, see if any of them fit. It's like playing the "higher or lower" game on The Price is Right. Just keep doggedly printing different sizes till you get one that fits.

Then cut it out exactly edge-to-edge and double-check. Once you have your first pattern that fits, all you have to do is get multiples of it and tape them together.

Now, if you want to get fancy, you can draw a line along the top or bottom, or both if you're seriously obsessive. That way you can line up each of the copies. Use your quilting rulers to make sure they're "square", meaning 90 degrees, not tilted slightly.

But all you have to do is get them all in a straight line that lies edge-to-edge with your quilt, and presto! You have your very own pantograph.

I'm not overly-fond of the pantograph myself - I'm comfortable with a "meander". Meandering is like an aimless walk - there's no particular pattern or direction. But I have a good eye and I'm confident that if I watch what I'm doing it'll turn out all right. Others aren't so confident and prefer to follow a pattern, so the pantograph is excellent for them. No guessing!

Oh, and when you're finished you first line, you can flip your pantograph upside-down to get a mirrored pattern if you like.

But rest assured it's not rocket science. It's just measuring and duplicating. Tedious, painstaking, and dull - but if you're a quilter, you've already got those skills nailed!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Wash your fabric - PLEASE!!!

Ok, here I am, hand-stitching a queen-size quilt for a customer. I settled on a pattern, carefully marked it lightly with a water-soluble quilt marker, and have spent a month doing one area completely. It's complex pattern of intertwining ribbons, done in white thread on the white background fabric. It's meant to highlight the appliquéd ribbons she has in a much larger scale twining their way around the quilt.

Flushed with success, I happily dampened my facecloth and proceeded to carefully wipe away the marks so I could enjoy looking at the completed section.

And then I saw it - pink, bleeding into the white background fabric. Her sashing - in dark pink - she didn't wash the fabric before putting it on her quilt.

Oh, great.

Ahem. Attention, anybody who quilts.

Wash your fabric before using it. No matter HOW eager you are to get started, or finished. No matter how much of a hurry you're in, how close the deadline looms. If you're too tired to wash your fabric, go to bed and pick up your quilting the next time.

And if anybody out there knows what I should do now, I'd be very pleased to hear from you!

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Problem with Pantographs

A Pantograph is a quilting (stitching) pattern. It happens to be six-to-eight feet across, and anywhere from eight to 24 inches high. It is a mass-produced item distributed to machine quilters when they purchase a long-arm or short-arm quilting machine.

(By long-arm, I mean the BIG names: Gammil, and APQS. There actually ARE other companies, but these are the largest. By short-arm, I mean a machine such as Husqvarna which comes with a quilting stand that is eight to 12 feet wide, just like the big ones, but the throat depth of the Husqvarna is only eight inches.)

Wow - sounds really technical, and what I really wanted to complain about were the pantographs!

So, when you buy a machine quilting setup, the companies give you a whole bunch of these lovely Pantographs. They are "all-over" quilt designs. That means this pattern is usually used from top to bottom and edge to edge over an entire quilt.

Which is wonderful, very easy for the machine quilter, actually. It takes someone operating an APQS machine approximately four hours work to cover a quilt completely with a pantograph pattern. Four hours, start to finish.

And for this, they have the gall to charge by the square foot, or by the square inch, for their services. So the average queen size quilt covered all over by a panograph design costs you $120 - $180.

I have to say, it isn't a lot of work for an awful lot of money.

I don't care for pantographs. I once attended a LOVELY quilt show in Ottawa - huge show. I stood in one row and looked at three beautiful quilts, each queen size or larger. The quilts were totally different quilt patterns, hand-pieced, perfect in every detail, completely unlike each other.

But they were ALL quilted in the SAME pantograph.

I couldn't believe my eyes that the people who installed the show put them up all in a row! To my mind, it cheapened the look of each of the quilts to see it next to the other two which were identically quilted! Why not at least display them far away from each other!

It turned me off machine quilting by pantograph on the spot.

And the worst offence I noted was in the case of one of the quilts, the size of the pantograph's repeat was SO CLOSE to the quilt it was on - it would have taken five minutes to adjust the pantograph so its design could have lined up with the blocks in the quilt - but no! It had the distasteful effect of a "moiré".

I simply cannot bring my self to use pantographs, which is why, as a machine quilter, I don't make much money!

I'm a graphic designer in my day job. I can look at a pattern and stretch it here, shrink it there, tizzy it up or calm it down - to make it fit the quilt.

And I cannot imagine the mind of a quilter who allows his or her quilt to be ruined by a pattern that doesn't FIT the blocks!

I look at the quilt. I talk to the quilter. What's the inspiration for this quilt? Does the quilter have motifs he or she likes, or motifs he or she dislikes strongly? Is there a particularly beautiful motif in the main fabric they would like to see repeated in the actual quilting? What colors would they like to see? Is there a feature that would benefit from some sparkly metallic? How about a "this" design in the center and a "that" design in the border?

That's how I like to quilt! So what if I have to stop my machine? So what if I have some threads to trim? At least, by the time I'm done with the quilt, the quilting looks like it BELONGS there!

I know two professional machine quilters who do use pantographs and their work is STUNNING. Beautiful. Perfect. I am insanely jealous! I have no idea how long they take to do quilt tops, but I suspect it is a good deal longer than four hours!

I've never made anything with such perfection, and I seriously doubt I ever will! But I simply cannot apply a single pattern, however lovely, uniformly across a quilt top. To me, contrast is a tool that can't be restricted only to the choice of colors and shapes in the quilt top - there needs to be contrast in the stitching as well.