Friday, April 17, 2015


Last time I mentioned that my mom and I took a tiling workshop with Jenny Bowker on our last trip to Asilomar.  The class was a five day workshop and about half the time we spent just drawing and designing tiles, doing different exercises and watching the way patterns and designs repeat and change in the process.  Ever since I spent time in Spain in the late 90s, I've loved the look of Mediterranean and Islamic tiles, with their repeating patterns and bright colors, so it was fun to take a class with lots of drawing and designing things like that.

This was the first exercise: draw three lines (maybe with an echo on them) on a piece of paper folded into eighths and see what kind of patterns you get.  Pick your favorite and see what happens when you trace it out and start repeating the single tile.  In the second picture, you can see a variety of options for edges and corners, using pieces of the same original tile.

Next, practice with shapes.  The idea is to have a repeating tiling pattern, rather than a shape splotched down in the middle of a block, so the shapes go off the edge. We first worked with vessel shapes since they were easy to draw and then experimented with what happened when multiple shapes were used on the same block and what would happen if you changed the size of the shape within the block.  My first attempt (first picture left and second picture) used a single pot on the tile twice.  Coloring it in helps with seeing the pattern, and one of the things Jenny suggested was using slightly different colors on each tile, that is, if you have a purple pot, use different purples on each tile to give the kind of variation you might expect if you were tiling a wall with handpainted tiles. For these exercises I was just using a limited palette of colored pencils, but you get the idea.  For the second tile, I used two different pot forms

Here's another version of the same exercise, same pots as above but a bigger tile so they are more spread out.

One last pot attempt-  I didn't even color this one in since I felt like the proportions weren't quite right-  the top of the pot overlapped the bottom of the next one, but not enough to feel intentional, only enough to look uncomfortably close.

Here's a similar exercise with different shapes.  My mom drew some fish shapes, and I drew some mice.

We then practiced making tiling designs that had mirror image symmetry and rotational symmetry.  I somehow managed to skip the mirror image exercise, but jumped in with two feet into some designs with rotational symmetry.  We started by just drawing 1/8th of the tile on a diagonally folded square and expanding from there.  In the evening after the class, I took pictures of my tiles and colored/repeated them in photoshop.  The colors are pretty yucky looking- filling things in on the quick and dirty on the computer is harder than you might think but you get the idea.  One of the most important things Jenny emphasized was that you really have to look at how the tile repeats to see if you'll like it since many secondary patterns only emerge in the repeats.  

one tile

four together

many together
 On this one (above) I was really unpleasantly shocked by how strong the plaid feeling was.  I had no idea that would emerge.  Even if I changed the colors, it was still pretty dominant.  I love a plaid as much as the next person, but because of the way I drew the tile, It really became the main thing you see.

The one below was more successful on that front, I love the different patterns you get where each of the four corners intersect.  The only think I wasn't crazy about with this one is that all the elements were about the same width/weight, and I thought it needed a bit of variety.

After doing these exercises most of us picked a tile we liked and started interpreting it in fabric. One of the things she suggested we think about when designing was what kind of things and what amount of detail we were willing to applique.  For example, for turned edge applique my design with the thistle would have been nightmarish.  The other thing she talked about was what to do with the tiles.  Obviously you can make a quilt with just the tiles, and I think this would have a feel like a lot of the traditional pieced quilts, where secondary patterns emerge in block intersections etc. One challenge with this for me, is that I'm usually happier when my quilts have a specific focal point (part of the problem with my previous printed tile project- thanks LeeAnna!).  Jenny usually uses tiles as part of a larger project, which appeals more to my design sense.

Next I'll share the last tile I designed and my progress towards turning it into a quilt!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Jenny Bowker Class

The other day I was reading one of the arty blogs I follow, and the artist mentioned how hard it is to get back into things after a trip.  I immediately sympathized!  I've been back from our wonderful trip to Asilomar for an Empty Spools Seminar for almost three weeks and have been so busy I haven't made time to even talk about the trip.

As always, my mom and I had a wonderful time.  This year we took a class called Arabesque with Jenny Bowker, primarily focused on designing tile designs (which I'll talk about more later).  Jenny spent many years living in the middle east as wife of the Australian ambassador, and much of her beautiful work features middle eastern themes and people, including Islamic tiles.  The class was great, Jenny shared more hilarious stories she than I think I've ever heard.  These are just a couple of her quilts she showed us- definitely check out her website or pinterest board for more (and better!) pictures.

c. Jenny Bowker, This was inspired by various photos from her time in Damascus

c. Jenny Bowker, This piece features the Australian landscape-  Uluru I think?

c. Jenny Bowker, this is one of her pieces from a series depicting Egyptian men.  Her portraits are just phenomenal.

c. Jenny Bowker

Jenny is also particularly well-known for her efforts over the last several years to bring attention to the stunning work of the tentmakers of Cairo.  This is a historical art form still practiced by men in Egypt, characterized by precise needle-turn applique of complex geometric patterns onto a canvas backing.  Watching them work is pretty amazing-they applique faster than anyone I've ever seen.  The AQS is the authorized US distributor for tentmaker work, so you can see more pieces on their website, and find more information on the tentmaker page on Jenny's site.  Originally, this type of work was done to entirely cover the inside of the giant tents used in the desert empires.  Here's an example of one from the 17th century Ottoman Empire.  These are a few pieces Jenny had with her in class just to show us what they were like.

Next time, more on what we did in the class!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Mouse Pincushions

I always say my patronus would be a mouse, and so recently in need of a new pincushion, I decided to make it in the shape of a mouse.  I didn't have a pattern, and though I love this and this and this, I wanted something simpler.  Having made tetradhedral pincushions before, I decided to make something more like this.   I got a bunch of crushed walnut shells from Amazon pet supply to fill it, and decided while I was at it to make one for my mom too.

My favorite part is the tails!  Normal mice don't actually have tails that curl around quite like this, but I couldn't resist.  I just knotted embroidery floss like we used to for friendship bracelets, but did it around florists wire so it holds a shape.

Hooray for fun little projects!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Puppets for Anna

Anna just turned 3 (I still cannot believe this), and I decided to make her some puppets.  I followed the basic plan outlined here.  Her instructions and pattern pieces were clear and easy to use, but I don't think I'd make them this way again.  I'm not crazy about things that have to be glued, so I think instead of plastic in the mouth piece I'd use some sort of sewable heavy weight interfacing.  I used up some fabric scraps I had lying around, and in retrospect I probably should have used something sturdier like fleece so I wouldn't have needed to line them.  In spite of not being my favorite project ever, I think they turned out cute enough and hopefully Anna will enjoy playing with them!

Mike took a couple of pictures of me talking with the mouth puppets :)  It's hard to deny that puppets are pretty entertaining! 

Friday, March 13, 2015

SAQA Auction Quilt

It's time once again to make small 12 x 12 quilts for the SAQA auction.  I love trying things a bit different for this, often in preparation for a bigger quilt, but this time it turned out the be the other way around- I did the big quilt first, and am now using up leftover bits for the auction quilt.

I haven't blogged about the bigger quilt though, since it was for a show with rules about that, so it's all new here!  For these smaller quilts, I started with two pieces of already quilted fabric that had been trimmed off of the bigger quilt during the squaring up.  It's kind of hard to see in the first picture, but if you look at the second picture, you can see it's two different pieces.  Since they were already quilted, I attached them together using bias tape.  I had enough of these quilted pieces to make three small quilts, and each one is slightly different.

To back up a little bit, both the top and bottom sections started as white polyester fabric that I painted with latex house paint in blue-grey-purple.  The pieces were then quilted (again all as part of something much larger), the bottom to look like plank flooring and the top in some random fillers meant to feel like wind and the outdoors.  Of course since they didn't make bias tape in the right color, I had to paint it too.

For these smaller pieces, I then designed my composition in illustrator (that's my silhouette looking out the window) and printed it on freezer paper.  I then quilted around everything in the picture (window frames and person), and tore off the paper.

Next, I used my silhouette cutter to cut the silhouette of the person out of adhesive foil so I could use it as a stencil.  I used my silver, blue, purple, and black Shiva paintsticks to shade in the silhouette and then removed the foil.

Next I mixed up some more of my latex paint and painted in the window frames in a darker shade than the background.  In the picture just below you can see the stitched outline of the window frame and then in the subsequent picture you can see I've painted it purple.  It didn't really matter about going over the lines into the window because as you can see in the third picture, my last step was to cut out the window panes to give an openwork feel.  I sealed the cut edges with my soldering iron so there'd be no fraying (thus the polyester fabric).

Here they are all faced and finished, one will be donated to the SAQA auction and the other two will just be for sale.  Thanks to Mike for taking the pictures.  It was fun to use up the extra bits cut off from another project and I'm anxious to show you guys the bigger quilt in a few months!  My goal was for the pieces too evoke thoughtfulness and reflection.  Maybe hopefulness or calm, or even anxiety or sadness.

Linking up with Nina-Marie as always!