Out With The Old

After over 10 years I have finally welcomed home a brand new sewing machine! Believe me it was definitely way past due.

I bought my very first sewing machine at the same time that I decided to try making my very first quilt. I had no idea what I wanted (or needed) in a sewing machine but I was a poor starving student living by myself for the first time in a small bachelor apartment where the rent seemed to get raised every 3 months. Talking a friend into driving me down to the nearest big box store, I bought the cheapest model I could find that wasn’t pink and covered with large gaudy flowers and ended up getting a Singer, which I thought at the time must be a good one as I had at least heard of that brand, for $99.00. It was a good little machine, simple and did the job…for a while at least.

Somewhere along the way, and without much notice from me, it began to accrue more and more problems. And I had no idea that a sewing machine needed cleaning let alone yearly professional maintenance. Lesson learned.

I probably would have continued using this machine indefinitely except that now that I’m starting to sew projects for people other than myself, I began to distrust the quality of the stitching it was producing. Plus it sounded like a plane taking off. I haven’t started a new project in months, instead avoiding the machine to dye fat quarters for future projects that had no certain beginning in sight.

My new Husqvarna Viking is a good quality investment, sews like a dream, and has given me the confidence and drive to start up again. Also, buying a sewing machine at Central Sewing means I get a free class in a few weeks that will teach me how to use and take care of it.

I can’t wait! I have been reading a lot about Anni Albers lately and have a lot of ideas to get started on, hopefully documented for a post in the near future, *fingers crossed*.

Until then…happy sewing! 🙂

Husqvarna Viking

Doing a test and learning all of the new buttons!

Snow in Grandmother’s Garden

Well I have FINALLY finished my latest quilt. This one has been years in the making and it feels so good to have it off my plate. I started this project in the beginning of 2014 and after 3 years of putting it off for other projects, namely wedding and baby quilts (so many babies), and seeing pieces of it strewn around the apartment, I put my foot down and said no more.

Originally I planned for a simple red and white quilt, all in hexagons, using the English Paper Piecing technique. I really love EPP; the idea of slowly building up a quilt by hand and the convenience of having a project that you can take anywhere to work on is exactly what I wanted when I began this quilting venture (the slow-pitch tournament got a lot of questions from some very nice young men).

What I didn’t account for was how long this was going to take me and the challenges that can arise when working on a project over a period of years. What began as a simple hexagonal grandmother’s garden pattern became a lesson in design and took constant consideration. Over time my idea of how the finished quilt was to look changed and eventually I decided that the quilt was a bit boring with just hexagons and wanted to add other elements (plus I wanted this done already). I sketched out many ideas but would quickly change my mind – the design was always in flux. I did eventually, out of necessity more or less due to my self-imposed exile from other projects, decide that I wanted to have strips up one side to make it asymmetrical, taking into account how it would lay on the day bed with only one side falling over the edge. I was also inspired, after doing research on vintage quilts and my great grandmother’s quilt (see History in a Quilt from July 2016), to add a completely different piece of fabric running along the top, chosen from what I had in the stash. As far as I can tell this piece was added to the top edge of the quilt that sees the most wear from hands and face contact while in use on a bed. This portion could be removed for washing or easily replaced once it became too worn. I’m not sure if this had a specific name but would love to know if anyone else has ever come across it!

Snow in Grandmother's Garden

Snow in Grandmother’s Garden

I am calling this quilt “Snow in Grandmother’s Garden”. It was hand stitched with a starburst pattern on each white hexagon, with stitching around the hexagon edges that make up the red flowers. A lovely tulip pattern is stitched along the top and yarn knots make up the quilting on the asymmetrical edge overhang. The stitching was the hardest part of the entire project for me to figure out and I thought about it constantly from day one. I ended up using these variations of stitching and quilting in order to add interest and align with the piecemeal aspect of the quilt top, but also because in the end this was a quilt for me and I could do whatever I wanted without worrying about it too much.

Snow in Grandmother's Garden

Detail of the English Paper Piecing and quilt stitching and ties on the front and back.

The back is of a fabric that I found in the quilt shop years ago when I first started this project. I fell in love with it right away and knew I had to have it. I’m pretty sure I bought the whole bolt so this is definitely going to be used in quilts in the future. Yay!

Snow in Grandmother's Garden

I love the backing fabric on this quilt!

Looking back on this quilt, I am quite proud of how it turned out and I learned a lot in the process, especially that I need to work on keeping my stitches even from front to back! Now that this project is done I can’t wait to try out different shapes and styles…diamonds, apple cores, and clamshells are all in my future.Snow in Grandmother's Garden

Nuts, Beetles, and Buds

As is evident on the blog lately, I have become increasingly interested in making my own one of a kind fabric to use in my quilts. Ergo, dyeing it myself! As a kid I always wanted to be the person who knew everything about plants for the inevitable moment when I would need to survive on my own in the wild (Note: I am definitely not that sort of person, I would die so quick). But through dyeing I have found a different way to interact with the natural world. This has opened up a new creative approach for me – as a dye scientist!

After the indigo shibori dyeing class in the spring I have taken out a few books on dyeing from the library, specifically natural dyeing. But none of it made any sense to me, it was so overwhelming to read about chemicals, and pH, and percentages, and scientific names. In university I had taken a textile class where we learned about different dyes and dye techniques around the world, which has been super helpful as I’ve explored more of the textile world, but I was a bit cloudy about how to go about doing it myself in my own back yard.

So I decided to take another class! This time I had to drive three hours south for a weekend workshop at ACAD (Alberta College of Art and Design), another dream in itself: to get to pretend to be an ACAD student for a weekend – Yay! Seathra Bell was our instructor and with just four of us as students it was a perfect class size to learn and experiment in. Check out Seathra’s work here: http://www.seathrabell.com or on instagram: http://www.instagram.com/seathrabell/. Her stuff is so beautiful, and she has such a passion for textiles and natural dyeing – simply amazing!

First we learned about scouring the fibres, yarns, and fabrics, which can be a different process depending on if what you are dyeing is protein (eg. wool, silk, etc.) or cellulose based (cotton, bamboo, etc.). The protein samples we treated with orvus and the cellulose with soda ash and synthrapol. This cleans and prepares the fabric for dyeing. Next up was the mordant. This allows the dye to adhere and fix to the fibres. There are many different mordants available and what you use will depend on the material you are dyeing with and the dye you are using. This is where experimentation or knowledge from other dyers comes in to play. For our class, we used alum (proteins) and an alum/tannic acid mix (cellulose).

Scouring the Proteins and Cellulose

Scouring the proteins and cellulose. Mordanting looks exactly the same. 🙂

Next we prepared the dye baths. Seathra brought in four different natural dye products for us to try: onion skins, marigold heads, cochineal insects, and walnut husks. I was a bit sad about the cochineals but when I saw how little we needed to use to make our dye bath I felt better about it.

Dye Materials

The dye materials: onion skins, cochineals, marigolds, and walnut husks.

Basically we put these in separate pots with water and simmered for about an hour to an hour and a half. Then we let it sit overnight. Scouring, mordanting, and preparing the dye bath isn’t hard but is a long process and was what we did on the first day alone – no dyeing yet!

*I should also note here that everything used in this process—pots, spoons, etc. is designated for dyeing only, do not use to cook food as well!

Dye Bath

Getting the dye baths ready.

Now to the dyeing! At this point, regardless of protein or cellulose based origins, everything went into the pot and then it was just a matter of watching the pot at a simmer and stirring to ensure even contact with the dye. Some dye materials are more fragile than others (marigolds vs. walnut husks) but a good way to go about it, I think, is to treat everything like it’s fragile and keep it hot at a simmer, adjusting the temperature if you need to so that it doesn’t start to boil. We dyed everything for about an hour, hour and a half before removing the fibres, yarns, and fabrics from the bath and then rinsed with warm to progressively colder water until they ran clear and hung to dry. This timing is the usual saturation point for dyeing but if the dye bath was closer to being exhausted and you wanted to try to get as much out of it as possible, you could let the material sit in the bath overnight.


Putting the fabric into the dye baths: onion, cochineal, marigold, walnut.

Dyeing Bath

The colour saturates and the fibre gets darker: onion and cochineal.

Seathra made sure we had a good sample of fabrics and fibres, everything from mureno, wool, and silk to cotton and bamboo, so that we could experience how the dye affects each one. You can definitely see the huge range and variety of shades that can be achieved!

Hanging to dry

Hanging everything to dry: onion, cochineal, marigold, walnut.

One last thing, you can change colour by overdyeing, either with another colour or with a rust, copper, or vinegar solution. We had both rust and vinegar to try and from my and the other students’ experiments it seemed that the rust produced a change more often than the vinegar (and we all know how much I like rust!). We did try adding vinegar to the pot for the last dip in the cochineal dye bath and it was quite apparent how the tone of the colour changed from a more mauve-purple to a fresh, clean pink. What I learned most this weekend was that experimentation is key and I would definitely like to try a copper overdye in the future.

Finished dyed samples

Finished dye samples. Here you can see the variation in colour depending on what textile is being used: onion, cochineal, marigold, and walnut.

I came away from this class with a huge appreciation for natural colours and in amazement of what can be achieved from humble kitchen scraps and plants found in one’s own backyard. I already have plans for what to try next!

Let The Great Rust Experiment Begin!

I decided the other day that I wanted to try dyeing fabric with rust so I sent my partner in crime out to the family acreage, always a good place to find rusty bits, on a very important mission to collect various rusted objects from the workshop. What came back to me was a myriad of flotsam and jetsam made up of washers, springs, hooks, and rings.

I still have a few cotton pieces from my last go at indigo dyeing, so I donated a piece from the stash for science. Using some of my precious creamy earl grey tea that I steeped for about 20 minutes in a large metal bowl, and while still warm, I soaked the fabric in it. Laying the fabric out in an aluminum-roasting pan I then proceeded to place the rusted pieces in a way that I thought would make a nice pattern, sprayed the whole thing with the leftover tea, now in a spray bottle, and covered with a plastic bag.

I let this sit for a few days, occasionally spraying it to make sure that everything was still wet, and when I couldn’t stand to wait any longer, removed the cotton piece for a look-see. I loved it!

Before and After

Before and After: On the left is the pre-washed and pre-ironed piece, probably still a bit wet. On the right is after rinsing with a gentle soap, left out to dry, and then ironed.

Because I wasn’t sure, and am still not, what I was going to do with it in the end I decided to give it a rinse with some gentle non toxic soap and, after drying, ironed it with trepidation (I am hoping I didn’t wreck the iron). I can definitely see how I lost detail and colour after rinsing but if I am going to eventually use this in a quilt I need it to be clean.

Rust Details

Details of some of the rust dyed elements on the fabric.

I really like this effect but I have so many questions! How much will this process, and the fact that there is still rust sitting on and in the fibre, continue to degrade the cotton piece? How will this affect other fabrics placed next to it? And how colourfast will this be over time? Fortunately I have a weekend workshop on natural dyeing at ACAD (Alberta College of Art & Design) coming up in a few weeks so I am hoping to pick my instructor’s brain and get a better idea of this process and best use of it for future projects!

An Unexpected Surprise

So I haven’t been very good at posting lately but I promise it’s not because I have been idle! I have a quilt that has been “In Progress” for years and I finally bit the bullet and said no more projects until this one is done. It’s been so hard! I have so many project ideas!

Needless to say, I have nothing really new to add as of late until it gets finished. Instead I am going to do a quick post on a crazy cool exhibit I saw in Toronto this summer at the Textile Museum of Canada (http://www.textilemuseum.ca/). The museum, right downtown and tucked into a little side street, is such an interesting little space, and easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it!

I was hoping to see some interesting quilts but what really blew my mind was the exhibit, “Huicholes: A People Walking Towards the Light, Wixarika Art by José Benítez Sánchez”. These yarn paintings were really so breathtaking, and quite large!

Kauymari, the Wind and the Word

Kauymari, the Wind and the Word by José Benítez Sánchez, 2005. The caption accompanying the piece reads “Tamatsi Kauyumari (Our Elder Brother, He Who Does Not Even Know His Name) is the god of the word as he is the one who taught the Huichol people to name things. At the centre of this yarn painting, we see Kauyumari in the form of the deer that taught the believers the language they hear at the sacred sites. According to Sánchez, before Kauyumari taught them language, ‘the entire world spoke badly.'” I think it’s so great how the various languages spilling out of the mouths is depicted!

These pieces are made by taking a piece of wooden board, covering it in a layer of beeswax, and then pressing yarn into the wax to make a highly detailed and colourful image. Other art pieces included very intricate beadwork, and such an exciting and remarkable texture is created when the beads cover an entire sculptural piece.

Tamatsi Kauyumari: Our Elder Brother, He Who Does Not Even Know His Name

Accompanying exhibit caption: “Tamatsi Kauyumari, also known as the Blue Deer, is the cultural hero of the Huichol. As he is an ambivalent being, he is associated with the morning and evening star.” This caption goes on to describe how Tamatsi Kauyumari was turned into a deer, and how pilgrims to the desert in a traditional yearly pilgrimage are able to interact with him through the consumption of peyote.

These pieces are filled with symbolism and imagery special to the Huicholes people and their culture and it was a pleasure to get a glimpse into their worldview.

For more information I bought a book in the gift shop that went with the exhibit “Yarn Paintings of the Huichol” by Hope Maclean.

Beaded Bowl

As captioned at the exhibit, “This artisanal bowl is made from a gourd. It was inspired by a ritual bowl.”

Quilt-ebago: Adventures in the Land of Summer

Whew! June was a very busy month for me, as I had picked up two extra contracts on top of my regular job, and by the time July came around I was in desperate need of a vacation. So I headed west to wine country and spent my days in the wineries (just tasting of course) and my nights in an air-conditioned hotel room watching HGTV. I had two missions for the trip, rent a paddleboard for a morning and get out on the lake, and get to a quilt shop.

I love my local quilt store and am very loyal to it but at my last class I came to a realization. As the woman teaching the class was showing us samples of work, I could see where I had that fabric, and that fabric over there, oh and I used that fabric in a baby quilt just last year. It dawned on me that everyone who shops at this store will all have similar fabric in one way or another in their quilts. I knew I needed to diversify. Stat.

I have a co-worker whose sister and her friends are very into quilting, they have even bought a longarm machine shared amongst them, and they recently travelled to the States for a big quilt conference that happens twice a year. They were sending back photos constantly during their trip, not only of the conference but of all of the quilt shops they stopped in along the way. This got me thinking again about quilt communities and building connections outside of my little world.


My new fabrics included floral, animal, and geometric patterns in a variety of colours.

I ended up stopping by Cherry Tree Quilts in Summerland and went a little nuts. I didn’t have anything specific in mind in terms of fabric or project, I just wanted to add some variety to my stash at home, so I just started working my way through the store and pulling fabrics that I was attracted to.

Geometrics Detail

Different geometric patterns to play with and get inspiration from.

I ended up getting a few fabrics cut in 1 metre lengths but most were in ½ metre bundles and while most will be secondary or supplementary fabrics, a few of these are definitely going to be the star of the show. I’ve broken them down into categories of pattern type-floral, animal, coloured gradients, and geometric-but these fabrics show a lot of potential inspiration for colour pairing with fabrics I already have or will challenge me to use a colour palette that I wouldn’t naturally gravitate to.

Colour Gradients Detail

Fun colour block fabrics that include gradients and gold squares.

While my regular quilt store is definitely still my number one go-to when it comes to fabric and classes, I am quite pleased with my new additions and I look forward to challenging myself to use these new fabrics instead of losing them to the abyss of the quilter’s stash.

Florals Detail 4


Love At First Shibori

I’ve been taking classes at SNAP (The Society of Northern Alberta Print-artists http://www.snapartists.com) off and on for many years and when I saw the shibori workshop posted on their website I knew it was going to be a good one. Our instructor, Jolie Bird, did a wonderful job over two days of showing us different shibori techniques and the process of using indigo dye. Check out her work at her website http://joliebird.com/home.html.

Shibori is a Japanese term and the artisans who make these fabrics are masters at their craft. It is a resist dye technique and we learned about four types of approaches you can use to create different patterns on your fabric: pole-wrapping, folding and clamping, binding, and stitching.

After preparing the fabric, we soaked it in water before putting it into the dye bath. Because we used synthetic indigo dye we only needed to dip it into the bath 2 or 3 times, letting it oxidize for about 30 minutes between each dip. I made a friend in the workshop who had done a class before where they used natural indigo and found out that you would have to dip many more times to get the beautiful deep blue colour.

Shibori Process

Here you can see the indigo dye bath as well as my first piece before dyeing. We soaked our prepared pieces in water before dipping into the dye bath. The fabric looks green when it first comes out but quickly oxidizes and turns a dark blue.

Pole-wrapping meant that you would pleat your fabric and then wrap it around a cylinder. We used plastic pipes of varying sizes wrapped with threaded cables to get a linear effect and I really liked experimenting with both plastic pipes and thick rope as a core.

Shibori Samples

A few of my samples using the pole-wrapping technique. The image on the far left is from the image above where I wrapped a threaded cable around a thick rope core.

Folding and clamping also began with pleating and then folding the fabric into a square or triangle shape and clamping with either square or triangular wooden blocks. I quickly began experimenting with different ways to fold and clamp and had so much fun with this technique.

Shibori Samples

Experimenting with different folding and clamping methods.

Making circular elements involved pulling up sections of the fabric and binding them with thread. Depending on how you wrapped the thread around the section of fabric you could get rings or shell/spider web type shapes. You could also use thread to stitch designs into the fabric. We used running stitch or whipstitch to get different marks. I felt like the running stitch looked like x-rayed teeth and the whipstitch was supposed to be reminiscent of leaves.

Shibori samples

Here you can see how the running stitch looks after the fabric has been dyed and how various binding techniques create rings and “spider webs”.

It was so much fun and I loved that you never knew what you were going to get when you washed out the final piece. Every time it was a surprise and every time it was magnificent.

Shibori Samples