All 3 trees are absolutely covered in the biggest avocados I have ever seen! I wished at that moment my nephew and niece were visiting - they are the best tree climbers I know and would have certainly been able to gather us armfuls of beautiful fruit. As they are not I had to make do with windfalls - but fortunately it was a breezy morning - and there were plenty of avos on the ground.
Here are just a few which I collected - the dark ones are ready to eat, the bright green ones are now ripening in my fruit bowl. I also collected up all the very ripe and bird pecked fruits. (You'll see why soon!)
The amazing thing about avos is that they are incredibly good for you - apparently a complete super food with the most amazing health benefits. When I got home I made my favourite snack - avo on toast. Yum!
Read more about the wonders of avocados here:http://healthnfitnesshops.com/health-benefits-of-avocado.html/
Mine didn't look quite this beautiful - but I promise, it tasted just as good.
Of course, after my lunch I had a lot of avocado skin and big pips left over, and together with the spoiled ones I collected I put them all into my big pot on the stove.
I'm sure you can guess what is coming next! Being not at all scientific, I covered it all with water, the simmered it all for an hour or so. Because the large avocado pips contain a lot of natural tannin I didn't worry about any mordant at this stage, (I am taking a direct dye approach here). Only time will tell whether this was a good idea or not!
After a good long simmer to extract the natural pigments I then strained out the debris and added a large piece of pre- wetted white cotton fabric. At this stage the hot dye bath was a pale pinkish tea-like colour. Pretty, but not terribly promising. For good measure I simmered it again (with the lid on) for another half an hour, then turned off the heat and let the fabric sit in the cooling dye bath.
Interestingly, as it cooled, the dye bath became darker - I'm thinking that perhaps it is oxidising - just like avos do when you cut them open. I don't know if that is actually what is going on, but it sort of makes sense.
In the second picture below you can see I have put a plate on top of the fabric to keep it fully submerged.
I'm going to leave it in the dye bath for a few days to see whether the fabric becomes any darker. There is one further thing I am going to try...... I have read that I can apply an aftermordant which will modify the colour of the avocado dyed fabric. For avocados an iron mordant is said to change the colour to a dark bluish purple, so I am preparing an iron mordant (also known as iron liquor) ready to try once I remove the fabric from the dye bath.
To make the aftermordant I have put a few rolls of steel wool into an old milk carton and added a weak solution of vinegar and water. I intend to leave this for a few days to allow the steel wool to rust, thus creating an iron rich solution. This iron liquor can be stored indefinitely in a properly sealed and labelled bottle.
I'll finish the process this week and post my results next week - fingers crossed I will have some lovely fabric for a new idea I have for a quilted poem.
Thanks for reading.
I started this quilt back in October 2015, and it is my piece for the French biennial exhibition 'Quilt Expo en Beaujolais 2016'. The theme of the challenge was 'La Liberté'. From the moment I read those words I knew immediately what I wanted to create. Several years ago I made a quilt with the same title - albeit in a different language. That quilt is called 'Freedom' and was my way of telling the story of the end of Apartheid when Nelson Mandela made his now famous 'Long Walk to Freedom'. It is a quilt that tells the end of a dreadful story, but is a celebration of the triumph against the odds. That made it an emotionally easy quilt to create.
This new interpretation of the same theme, 'La Liberté' comes from a very different point of view and has forced me to consider many things as I made it.
At the time, October 2015, the UK TV news was becoming more and more filled with stories of refugees and the repercussions of the disturbing events which had been unfolding in Syria since April 2011. The problem for Europe was that now these issues were spilling over borders and into 'our' lives. If you remember, daily we saw the very disturbing pictures of tens of thousands of people arriving into Europe by all means possible: by boat, truck, rail and even literally walking across fields. It was such a terrible thing to watch and I could not even begin to imagine what it must be like to have to leave everything you own, everything have worked for, and just walk to who knows where - just to be safe.
A lot of things happened as I made the quilt - some of which made me doubt whether I would, or even should finish it. I wondered if I was trivialising the whole terrible situation with the piece. I felt guilt that I was sat in my comfortable studio whilst someone's dead child was washed up on a beach. I felt angry that in our times ordinary people, just like you and I, are being forced to abandon their everyday lives because of the terrible actions of governments - either appointed by the proletariat or by themselves. It seems that as the human race we are determined to ensure we self destruct.
And then the events in Paris happened and I stopped work on it completely.
After several days I looked at the quilt again. I thought long and hard about why I had chosen this subject for this quilt and decided that, despite those terrible events, the lives of the people whose story I was trying to tell had not changed. For so many reasons, those people were still searching for freedom. Their reasons for abandoning all that they had were still the same. They were leaving wherever it was they had come from because they could take no more. Whatever your personal views, and I know this is a very emotive subject, I think nobody can deny that this is a human tragedy of monumental proportion.
After much thought and consideration I decided to continue with the piece. When it was finished I contacted Monique Bonnet, the French organiser and explained my position and my reticence over submitting the piece. I explained that I did not wish to make the events in Paris seem any less important than the story of those the quilt portrays. Monique was very understanding and told me to submit it.
Much has happened in this story since then. Very little of it good.
One of the things that this quilt forced me to consider is why I make the work I do and how other people react to it. I have made several quilts now that have been very well received, but each is about something seriously negative. I do not consider myself a negative or depressive person (quite the contrary) - but you might think so from the quilts I am currently creating. I have come to discover that currently I make my best work about things that upset me personally. I wonder if that is healthy? I have decided it is. Probably like most people, I detest injustice and suffering, and I feel pretty powerless to do much about it. We see much on the TV news, although there is a lot of bias in what we get shown. Photographers capture hundreds of images which 'tell a thousand words'. Journalists write daily, and in literature authors write books. In all these media there is time for the authors to develop the narrative. The story they are telling can unravel slowly and challenge the reader to contemplate different issues. As a quilt artist, with a single still image, the story has to be told in one shot. That is my challenge. By making work about those things which concern me gives me the opportunity to vent my distress. I try not to add my personal views to the work , (I do not believe in imposing my beliefs on others) but rather I try to portray things the way they are, confronting the silence and allowing others to reflect on the piece. My aim is for the piece to give rise to discussion and debate. When things are not openly debated and discussed it allows those things to carry on, usually for the worse. There is a famous quote, which it turns out is very difficult to attribute (see here) which sums up this whole problem.
"For evil men to accomplish their purpose it is only necessary that good men should do nothing."
It has taken me a long time to figure out my position - maybe I am a bit slow on the uptake.
I would like to express my thanks go to Margaret and John Pratt for sending my the good news that my quilt won a ribbon, and to Uta Lenk for sending my the photograph of the quilt hanging in the gallery. It was a lovely surprise.
Thanks for reading.
This week I have moved along quite a long way with the 'Am I Beautiful?' quilts currently on my design wall. I have got to the stage where I need to do quite a lot of free motion quilting using metallic thread. Yikes! Free motion quilting and metallic thread in the same sentence. I must be nuts.
If you have ever stitched with metallic thread then I'm sure you have been there - thread going haywire, making birds nests on the underside of the fabric, getting jammed in the feed dogs, snapping every 5 seconds, coiling up like a spring and shredding in the needle. Not all metallic thread is difficult, but if you know what I'm talking about then you will also probably have a few tricks up your sleeve to solve the problem! There are lots of blog posts around where people share their tips and secrets. Here are two I especially like. Click on the 'see Kate sew' or 'Academy of Quilting' boxes below to go directly to these blogs and see the tips these kind people have shared.
With all that good advice, however, my thread still played up. It was a particularly wiry, extra-shiny silver and no matter which way up I put the spool, it just coiled up as you can see in the picture below. The thing is I really wanted to use it, despite having several other silver threads. I should have known better, but I wanted THAT thread - so I persevered.
I wont repeat what these two great blog posts have shared - that would be pointless, but I thought I would share a pass along a few further tips for that I discovered as I to tried to cope with this coiling monster!
1. Always, always take the time to stitch some samples, until you get the best stitch you can manage. It may not be perfect and you may feel like you are wanting both time and thread - but I promise, it is better to get it sorted out early than risk ruining your work.... and nobody I know likes unpicking!
2. If the thread is cross wound, put it into a cup and put the cup on the floor and then let the thread come up and over a thread stand before you thread the machine. Giving that thread lots of room to wiggle and untangle before it gets into your machine is a good idea. My thread wanted to coil up like a spring whatever I did with it, but this did at least let me see (out of the corner of my eye) when the thread was getting too twisted to sew nicely any more.
When it was just too twisted up I had no option but to uncurl it all before it snapped. However, rather than cut the thread and have to start again I perfected a kind of spinning top method to uncurl it. I stopped stitching with the needle down, then put an elastic band around the spool of thread to stop any more thread from coming off.
Then I stood up and grasped the thread at the point where it went over the thread stand and let the long thread with the spool on the end dangle downwards. Lifting my arm so the spool was just above the floor allowed the spool to rapidly spin around, getting all those coils out. Once it stopped spinning I removed the elastic band and put the spool back into the cup and carried on stitching. It was a nuisance - but it did stop the thread from snapping and allowed me to carry on stitching.
3. The next thing I did was to lubricate the thread with (Collins) Sewer's Aid silicone lubricant. I've had this bottle of magic for years - never really knowing what to do with it. Since learning more about lubricating thread I must say I think it makes a big difference with these troublesome threads. I have just looked it up online - most of the quilting shops stock it, and it is also available on Amazon. The price varies a lot - between £5 and £8 - so shop around! The main issue that I have with it is how to get it onto the thread without having too little or too much. See below for the solution!
Earlier in the year I read read about a little gadget called a lube box that is used by industrial sewing machine operators. Essentially it is a little jar with a hole in the bottom. Under this are two pieces of thick felt (you can't see them here), through which you pass the thread. It is a dinky little thing. It has a magnet on the base to allow you to attach it to your metal machine, or a little screw clamp if your machine is not magnetic. I've clamped mine to my thread stand and it works brilliantly.
I searched the internet and found them for sale in the USA. I'm sure they must be available elsewhere - but I ordered mine from Sharp Sewing Supplies via eBay.com for $12 (US) +post.
Here are a few more pictures so you can see what it is like
All you do it put some Sewer's Aid into the little jar and allow it to penetrate into the felt pads. When you thread your machine you lift the little jar section (above left) and place the thread between those two white felt pads. Then you close the jar down, trapping the thread and allowing it to pass through to the other side. The brownish part you can see above right has little grooves to guide the thread. You could have as many as 5 threads passing through the lube box - each one getting the perfect amount of silicone lubricant on it. Think of it as hair conditioner for thread!
4. If your thread is straight wound (also known as stacked) then a different approach will probably work better. Rather than standing the thread vertically, it is usually better to have the spool positioned horizontally. If your machine does not have this set up, then you will need to get inventive. My machine does have a horizontal spool pin, but to give the thread room to uncurl I used my thread stand again. The trouble is, it only has vertical spool pins. However, with a bit of lateral thinking it now has a horizontal option, courtesy of a bent double ended knitting needle and a small piece of foam tube (that used to be a hair roller). Take a look at the picture below to see what I did.
5. Finally, needles. My preferred needle choice is the Top Stitch needle. I love these for everything, but especially for tricky threads. Personally I don't use metallic needles as I find these better. In my view, try what you have and see what works - don't slavishly follow the rules or what it says on a label - try things out and use what works for you.
I must say that not all metallic thread misbehaves as badly as this one and I hope you never end up sewing with such troublesome thread, but if you do, and you decide not to throw it out of the nearest window, give these ideas a try. It might just save you some grey hairs.
Thanks for reading.
I had fun this week exploring a different way to add colour to fabric - using a technique I haven't used for a long time.
It is such a gentle and interesting technique - floating colour onto a liquid or semi liquid surface, then pulling a mono print from it. Years ago, when I was a primary teacher, I remember the children in my class creating masses of beautiful paper by using oil based marbling inks. All that floating, dipping and dripping was great but messy fun. I think I probably ought to apologise to a lot of parents for sending their children home at the end of the day with marbled school uniforms too! Happy memories.
My research into the marbling technique has led me to understand that there are several different approaches that can be taken.
Oil Based Paints
Oil based paints can be thinned and then simply dripped onto the surface of a tray of water. Because oil and water don't mix, the paint floats on the surface of the water. Different colours can be floated and variously stirred, gently blown or combed to produce different designs which can then be lifted off onto paper, fabric - or indeed any surface that will accept oil paint.
Acrylic Based Paints
Thinned acrylic based paints can also be used, but these need some special extra preparation as acrylic paint is water based and so wont float on water. To overcome this problem there are a few solutions:
1. Increase the viscoscity by thickening the water in some way. You could try
- ordinary cornflour (cornstarch) https://www.forthemakers.com/tutorials/acrylic-paint-marbling
- carrageenan (a product derived from red seaweed - remember the vegetarian gelli plates????)
- methocel (a polymer derived from pine pulp)
2. Adding a chemical to the paint to help it float more easily. You could try
- Versatex http://www.dharmatrading.com/techniques/marbling-materials.html
- Golden Acrylic Flow Release http://www.artdiscount.co.uk/golden-acrylic-flow-release.html
- Ox gall (derived from the gall bladders of cattle http://marblingexplained.blogspot.co.nz/2012/03/ox-gall.html
- Photo-Flo (a solution used by photographers who use old-school film)
3. Use something else that the paint will float on. You could try
- shaving foam http://honestlywtf.com/diy/diy-paper-marbling/ (My mum gets amazing results from this method)
4. Use something else! You could try
- nail varnish / polish http://vegetarianventures.com/2014/03/25/marbled-paper-diy/
- soy milk (remember the sun printing?) http://babbledabbledo.com/science-art-for-kids-marbled-milk-paper/
So that I didn't have to fuss about with a lot of processes I decided to try the oil based paint option - but I do like the sound of the soy milk, so when I have some time to spare I would like to try that out. If you have experience of this - or do try it out I would love to hear how it goes.
As I don't already have any oil paints I decided to look for some online - and came across this small and inexpensive kit. I bought it expecting it to be the same as the oil based kits I used years ago in school, but it turned out to be much more interesting. Without realising, I had purchased a Japanese marbling kit, more correctly called Suminagashi (墨 流 し) or "floating ink" . Suminagashi originated in Japan as early as the 12th century and produces fine and delicate prints, somewhat unlike the robust and thick oily inks I used in the past.
What I quickly learned is that these paints need a delicate hand as you apply them and no combs or rakes to make patterns with the ink, but rather a gentle blow over the water's surface to move the floating inks around. This is what I did:
Step 1: I filled the lid of a large polystyrene box (known in New Zealand as a chilly bin) with about a centimetre or two of water and then dropped a few of the small paper circles from the box into the water. At first I didn't understand what the paper circles were for - but I quickly figured it out. The papers float on he surface of the water and you add single drops of paint onto them which stops the paints from sinking to the bottom of the tray. Interestingly the papers seem to leave no trace of their presence when you take the pint, and you simply keep adding drops of paint onto the same paper circle until you are ready for the next step.
Step 2: More drops of paint are added to the water until you have an interesting assortment. This really is down to experimenting to see what you like. Here I went for something very simple. I could have taken a print from this which I think would have looked very striking, but I decided to move on to the next step to see what would happen.
Step 3: I very gently blew across the surface of the water and magically the paint began to form swirls. This, apparently is the technique used by the Japanese artists who perfected this technique so long ago. I did attempt to use a rake, but the inks are so fine they simply reformed once the rake had passed through.
Step 4: I then took a piece of ever so slightly dampened fabric and laid it super gently onto the surface of the water. I learned the hard way that this is a very delicate moment. Even a tiny gust of air as you lower the fabric causes the paint to move - and if you aren't careful you end up with a great big empty space and therefore a big empty space on your printed fabric. (Having the fabric damp seemed to improve the takeup of ink to the fabric)
Step 5: I left the fabric on the surface of the water for a few seconds - until I could see the whole of the fabric had become wet. If an air bubbles occurred beneath the fabric (try not to get these) I gave it a gently poke with my finger to submerge the fabric. I then lifted the fabric up and off and instantly dropped it into a bucket of water. I was a bit worried about this at first, thinking I might was away all my lovely pattern - but fear not. Magically it stays put and just the excess is rinsed off. All you need to do then is allow the fabric to dry. It really couldn't be simpler.
Now all I need to do is find aproject to use it all!
Thanks for reading.
You may recall that back in January I spent some time messing about with some walnuts I found in the park, which I turned into some lovely walnut ink. If you want to read that post you can find that post by clicking here.
As I was testing out the ink I drew a face in my sketchbook - it was just a quick drawing - more of a 'let's see what this ink looks like' sort of thing. This is it.
A few weeks later I began work on a quilt for an exhibition that is scheduled to debut at the International Quilt Festival in Houston later this year, entitled 'Turmoil'.
The concept of the exhibition captured my imagination, as Turmoil will be hung in the exterior space created by paneled walls, with Tranquility, (a parallel exhibit) in the interior space. This environment will mirror the chaos depicted in the artworks.
The moment I read the exhibition brief I knew that I wanted to tell the story of those who suffer great turmoil in their lives as a result of witnessing very traumatic things; those who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress. The disorder is suffered by millions, if not billions of people worldwide. It consumes the brain of those who have been profoundly affected by witnessing or experiencing great trauma. For them, what follows are turmoil, pain and torment. Whether asleep or awake, demons from the past are ever present, echoing on and on, tumbling around in the mind’s eye and hindering the sufferer from freely going about their daily life.
I decided to use the solemn looking walnut ink drawing as the starting point. I scanned the image and began playing about with it on my computer. I don't use Photoshop - but instead the free version known as GIMP. As I played about with layers, rotation and colour I was able to create the image below.
This is the image I used as I planned my quilt. To recreate the layers I made a stencil from freezer paper and repeatedly screen printed it onto a piece of white cotton poplin.
Gradually I covered the whole cloth and this was the result.
From here I continued the idea of adding layers of dye and paint, creating something that to me looks very unsettling.
By adding further layers of voile and stitch the quilt became more visually disturbing. My neighbours do not like it one bit!
I decided to name the quilt 'Echoes of Demons' - those images that keep returning to those who experience and suffer with PTSD. The overlapping tormented faces emphasize that suffering is unceasing; often dark and raging, at other times quieter, but ever present. They are the demons that need to be dealt with before recovery is made.
Today I discovered that 'Echoes of Demons' has been selected to hang in the exhibition. I am so very pleased. Not just because my quilt was selected, but more importantly because it continues to build awareness of those who experience the debilitating and terrible effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Thank you for reading.