Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Visit to an Indigo Fabric Dying Studio in Hungary

Kekfesto (blue dyed) fabric, Hungarian, 9 different patterns
This fabric is called Kékfestö in Hungarian, a word that roughly translates as blue-dyed or blue-dying. Producing these fabrics is a cottage industry in Hungary, which dates back several centuries. The dye is indigo; the cloth is cotton; and the long, arduous process results in a type of batik fabric. The photo above shows a small fold of each of the fabrics I bought at the blue-dyed studio shown below. (As always, please click on the photos if you'd like to see more detail.)

Kekfest (blue dyed fabric) studio in Hungary
When in Hungary in October, 2016, my quilting/travel friend (Lunnette) and I, as guests of my Hungarian bead sister, Anna Fehér, had the very exciting experience of visiting the hand-dying studio of Miklós Kovács in the little village of Tiszakécske, SE of Budapest. The studio, located behind his home, includes two rooms, one for printing the raw cloth with a wax resist, and the second for dying the printed cloth with indigo. In front of the building, you can see rods above the deck, which are used for hanging the fabric to dry after it is dyed, and a wagon loaded with printed cloth ready to be dyed.

Kekfest (blue dyed fabric) master craftsman, Miklos Kovacs
Meet Mr. Miklós Kovács, now in his 80s! Charming and animated, he is explaining his traditional, hand-dying process to Anna. Blue-dying has been the Kovács family's livelihood since 1878, each new generation being trained by the previous Master. It is strictly a family affair. Miklós, his wife, Margit, and their two daughters, Gabriella and Mária, currently produce about 10,000 meters of Kékfestö (blue-dyed) fabric every year. When Mr. and Mrs. Kovács retire, the business will pass to their daughters. This post shows how they turn plain white cloth into beautiful fabrics with white motifs on an indigo background.

raw cotton used for Kekfest (blue dyed fabric)
First, they need thousands of meters of fine-quality, tightly-woven, raw cotton cloth, which is rinsed to remove impurities, then carefully ironed and rolled onto wooden rods which fit onto the printing machine. This pile of untreated cotton cloth, manufactured in Turkey, is the remainder of a big shipment purchased at the start of the year.

printing blocks used for Kekfest (blue dyed fabric)
Next they need a print block or plate. These are made with wire pins of various diameters, which are pounded into blocks of dense wood. Here you see the many plate choices available in the Kovács studio, each yielding a different motif on the fabric. The length of each print block is the same as the width of the fabric; the width is the width of the pattern repeat, generally designed to be about 4.5 inches..

printing block used for Kekfest (blue dyed fabric)
This is the end of one of the print blocks, showing how the design is formed by setting metal pins of different diameters into the wooden block.

Kekfesto (blue dyed) fabric, Hungariant batik
And here is the fabric (after dying it with indigo, and removing the wax resist), which was printed with the block in the photo above it. Naturally, a half-meter of this one came home with me!

German machine used to print wax resist when making Kekfesto
This is the machine which is used to print the motif on the raw cotton cloth with a wax resist. Mr. Kovács keeps his printing machine, built in Germany 120 years ago, in good running condition with machinist skills he learned alongside his father.

You can see the sprocket, lower right, which is adjusted to advance the fabric through the machine in increments exactly the length of the pattern repeat. For most motifs, the fabric advances 4 to 5 inches after each time the print block is applied to the fabric, thus revealing the next short stretch of un-printed cloth.

German machine used to print wax resist when making Kekfesto
Here you can see many meters of raw cotton cloth, suspended on a metal rod at the back of the printing press. There is a leader of waste cloth stitched to the end of the roll which has been fed through the rollers of the machine to get the process started.

Kekfesto (blue dyed fabric), wax resist added to tray on machine
At the front of the printing machine, a worker swipes a tray with wax resist, which is tinted green so that it will be visible on the printed cloth. The printing block touches down on the waxed tray, picks up a coating of was, and then presses firmly against the fabric.

Kekfesto, printed with wax resist, hung to dry
After being imprinted with wax resist, the fabric is wound up and down through a drying rack located behind the printing machine.

Kekfesto, printed with wax resist, ready to dye with indigo
When it is dry, the printed fabric is folded and stacked until there is a sufficient quantity to begin the dying process. You can see that some of the raw cloth in this pile was pre-dyed pink, blue, or beige. After over-dying with indigo and removing the resist, the motif on these pieces will be pink, blue or beige with an indigo background, rather than the much more common white motif with an indigo background.

Kekfesto (blue dyed fabric),detail of fabric printed with wax resist
This close-up photo shows how the fabric looks after the wax resist (tinted green so that is shows on white cloth) is dry. This is the motif being printed while we were there. Liking the design a lot, I was very pleased to find finished fabric in this pattern available to purchase.

Kekfesto (blue dyed) fabric, Hungarian
And this is how the cloth will look after it is dyed with indigo, the wax resist removed, and the fabric washed and ironed. As you might have already guessed, a half-meter of this one came home with me!

Robin Atkins (on left) at Kekfesto studio in Hungary
As we watch the cloth passing slowly through the rollers of the printing machine, Lunnette holds a scrap of dyed fabric which was tied to the machine, indicating the motif currently being printed.

Kekfesto (blue dyed) fabric, preparing concentrated indigo dye
At last, we get to the dye pot!  Here on the burner, a concentrated indigo dye formula is being readied to pour into the dye vat.

Kekfesto (blue dyed) fabric, rubber gloves for dying with indigo
Don't forget to wear those heavy rubber gloves, or the skin on your hands will be tinged with blue for a long time.
Kekfest (blue dyed fabric) master craftsman, Miklos Kovacs
Mr. Kovács gave a long, animated talk (all in Hungarian, which I only slightly comprehend) about the whole process of blue dying. You've already seen how the cloth is printed with wax resist. The next step is to dye the background.

The cloth is dyed in a vat with the indigo dye-bath at 85 degrees C., then washed to remove the wax and rinsed to remove the excess dye. After rinsing, the cloth is looped over racks to dry outdoors, which completes the dying process. Sadly, he did no dying while we were there, so I don't have pictures or first-hand experience with precisely how it is done to share with you.

However the fabric is not yet ready to use. It must be starched, dried, and then pressed using both steam and steel rollers with heavy pressure, in order to create the traditionally desirable shiny finish on the cloth. Finally, the fabric is folded onto bolts for distribution to shops and end-users.

Kekfest (blue dyed fabric), templates for printing table cloths and runners
We learned how they hand-print motifs on cloth using a template, such that after dying, the fabric can be cut out and hemmed as a finished table cloth. You can see the templates hanging on the wall. The desired template is placed over the fabric, and a pencil used to mark the registration points for lining up the printing block. Fabrics which have already been printed are stacked in front of the templates. After being dyed, this fabric will be made into table cloths and runners of various sizes.

Kekfest (blue dyed fabric), hand stamped with wax resist for table cloth
This is a section of cloth which as been marked with a template, and hand-stamped with wax resist. After dying with indigo and removing the wax, it will be made into a rectangular table cloth with a lovely double border all the way around.

Kekfest (blue dyed fabric), hand stamped with wax resist
Mrs. Kovács demonstrates for us how she lines up the print block with the penciled registration marks, and then lowers it onto the fabric. With the stamp resting on the cloth, she lightly pounds it with her fist to set the wax into the fabric. It was obvious to us that carefully making each wax impression all the way around the cloth takes a lot of time and concentration. As you an see below, the results of her hand-printing are stunning!.

Kekfest (blue dyed fabric), round table cloth, hand printed
Here is an example of a hand-stamped, indigo-dyed fabric made into a round table cloth. Obviously, it came home with me, and is perfect for my kitchen table!  This fabric is quite wide, and takes a great deal of space and time to print. Yet, the prices were very reasonable!

Kekfest (blue dyed fabric), Hungarian batik yardage
After spending several hours in the studio, we were invited to the house for a shopping bonanza! Fortunately, hoping ahead of time that we would be visiting a Kékfestö studio when we got to Hungary, we had saved our allowances for some months, and were prepared to shop for future quilting and sewing projects. The prices, ranging $10 to $15 per meter depending on the width, seemed very reasonable considering the quality of the fabric, and the extreme amount of work that goes into producing it.

Kekfest (blue dyed fabric), Hungarian batik apron
In addition to yardage, both of us bought a table cloth and an apron. Mine is shown above.

What a totally delightful experience we had! Mr. and Mrs. Kovács are as friendly and nice as can be!  If you ever get to Hungary, you can find their fabrics and finished products in the picturesque town of Szentendre, just a short drive or train ride north of Budapest on the Danube River. Here is a website link.

Master craftsman of Kekfest (blue dyed fabric), Hungarian batik
To end our visit at the Kovács studio, here is a tribute photo of the elder Mr. Kovács, who during his boyhood in the 1920's was immersed in the world of his family's blue-dying business, and who continued producing Kékfestö indigo-dyed fabrics for his entire life, while training his own son to continue the trade.

Like his father, the younger Mr. Kovács has trained his daughters to continue when he retires, although I'm sure he has many more years to go, probably well into his 90s..

My last two photos in this post are a little surprise for you. Before falling in love with beading and quilting, my main passion was Hungarian folk dancing. I danced in a performance group for 10 years (and later became one of the group's choreographers), performing at many events in the Seattle area, including Bumbershoot and the Folklife Festival. We also performed at the World's Fair when it was in Vancouver, British Columbia. I and several of the other dancers in the group made most of our costumes using Hungarian fabrics and original costumes as patterns.

It was folk music and dance that first called my heart and soul into Hungary, where I have since spent a cumulative total of well over a year of my life, spaced over 14 different visits so far.

Robin Atkins, Hungarian folk dancer, wearing costume of Kekfesto (blue-dyed fabric)
So, here you go. This is me, wearing a costume I made with Kékfestö fabric for performing the dances of the Szatmár region, located in northeastern Hungary. This photo was taken in September, 1986 at the World's Fair in Vancouver, Canada, where we performed on two separate occasions.

Legenyes Hungarian Folkdance Ensemble, performance 1984
And this is me on stage at a festival in Redmond, WA, happy as can be, Hungarian folk music, song and dance, filling me with joy!  Michael Kappleman and I are the second couple from the left.

So you see...  Kékfestö and I go back a long way. Next, I'll be quilting with it!

*****
My apologies to Hungarians for not using the correct accent mark for the last letter of the Hungarian word Kékfestö. I spent 4 hours trying to do it, but could not get Blogger to accept anything I tried.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

My Quilt for 2017 La Conner Quilt Museum Challenge

Robin Atkins, quilt for 2017 La Conner Quilt Museum challenge, detail
To be honest with you, the past two months (Oct. and Nov.) have been miserable for me because of the election campaign and results. Now, finally, the cloak of despair, the fog of depression, is lifting a little.

One evening, as I noticed the challenge kit from the La Conner Quilt Museum on top of my quilting to-do pile, a flicker of an idea passed through my brain. Then, as I awoke the next morning, the flicker became a small flame, which in turn lead me to accept an invitation to spend an afternoon quilting with some friends, which (in order to have something to work on) got me rooting through my fabric stash.

Now, quilters, beaders, and artists of all types, will recognize the phenomenon caused by physically touching your materials, supplies, and tools. Suddenly your wearisome thoughts of the election (or whatever else got you down) are gone! You fondle your stuff lovingly, and with great anticipation, you make the first cuts, fanning the flame, turning it into a nice warm fire. Ah, saved from the chilly fog, at last!

vintage quilt block, 11 inches square, hand pieced
My journey out of the fog began with this vintage block from a quilt that someone, somewhere, started long ago, but never finished. It, along with many others, was donated to the La Conner Quilt Museum. The Curator, Kathleen Kok, not knowing what she would do with all the vintage blocks donated over the years, just kept them in a corner waiting for an idea to form. And form it did!

Every year the Museum has a challenge as a fundraiser, showcasing the entries at the annual Quilt Festival. For 2017, the challenge theme is "Time" and the material provided in the kit is one of the vintage blocks from their collection. The block above is the one I picked. It is just so cheerful... how could I resist? Hand pieced, it wasn't perfectly sewn, but still I fell instantly in love with it. Mine for a $10 contribution!

Of course, it was just the block. In the photo above, I have already layered it with backing and batting, and then hand quilted it.

My idea is two-fold. (1) Since the "time" theme can be portrayed by a transition from these early fabrics to modern fabrics, I decided to repeat the block using Kaffe Fassett fabric scraps left over from my shimmer quilt. (2) Feeling powerless in the face of impending doom after the election, I had to find some ways to assert my beliefs, and this quilt was to be one of them. I've long been concerned about the ever-increasing world population, about all the small, yet constant ways overpopulation is damaging and destroying the natural systems of the planet. So the title will be: Under the Quilts, Time Flies, and Population GROWS. My idea is to illustrate this concept using both color and beads. You'll see.

First though, a few words about making the modern block. At first I tried to make a pattern for the "flower/star" by tracing one of the triangles from the back side. I hand-stitched the required 16 pieces together FOUR different times, varying the seam allowances each time, trying to get it to lie down flat. Obviously, I did not correctly copy the original, because when I finally sewed it so it was nice and flat, it was also too small. Grrr.

A smart quilt friend (thanks Tori) suggested I trace a section from the right side of the block and add 1/4 inch seam allowances all around. Good idea, but there were small differences between the sections... which one to trace? Trying to answer that question, looking at the block, I finally saw how the pattern was derived! (Light bulb!!!)

pattern for vintage quilt block, 11 inches square
It's two overlapping squares of the same size, one on point and one not. All it took was to measure the sides of the squares on the original block (which averaged 8.5 inches), cut them out of paper, fold the diagonals and sides, put a pin through the centers to join them, rotate the top one until the folds lined up, tape the two together, and draw along the fold lines. Voila! Now, all I had to do was cut out one of the half-points, add my quarter-inch seam allowances, and there was the perfect pattern for my new block. The rest went quite quickly, and below you can see the quilted result. (Note: I added quarter-inch seam allowances to each of the pattern pieces shown above to get the final cutting pattern.)


Robin Atkins, hand pieced, hand quilted block, Kaffe Fassett fabrics
You might be wondering why I've layered and quilted these blocks. How will they be joined to form the quilt? The answer is they won't be joined! Instead, they will be bound as separate little quilts (each 11 inches square), and then appliqued to a separate "background quilt."

Here is how they look with the binding.

vintage quilt block, hand quilted and bound by Robin Atkins

Robin Atkins, hand pieced, hand quilted block, Kaffe Fassett fabrics
Notice that the over-all color of the modern block is darker. This matches my concern about over-population of the planet. Time flies, and the population GROWS, making the world a darker place for me, as many species become stressed and obsolete, as the desert lands grow and the forests shrink, as potable water becomes polluted and scarce, as crowded people war with each other. You know. If you watch the documentaries and contribute to various environmental causes, you know. Darker.

Thus, the quilt also becomes darker as the eye travels from top to bottom. Here is how it looks with the two blocks on the background quilt, the transitioning colors from light to dark, representing about 70 years in time passing (estimating the date of the fabrics in the vintage block at approximately 1946). This is an extremely tiny period of world history, but one in which world population sky-rocketed from 2.3 billion to 7.4 billion.

Robin Atkins, quilt for 2017 La Conner Quilt Museum challenge
You can probably see the little heart beads, but if you click to enlarge the photo, you'll see them more clearly. The pair at the top represents a couple. They dive under the quilt, have some fun, and produce four lovely children (between the two blocks). These four pair up, dive under the quilt, resulting in 16 children. Under the quilts, time flies, and the population GROWS. That's m' story, and I'm sticking to it.

Now, here's a question for you loyal readers who have come so far with me on this thing.  The quilt looks really pretty the way it is. But originally, I had planned to do more beading on it.  I planned to bead several vines circling the outer border of the quilt (not the binding). Across the top of the quilt, the vines would be light green, with many green leaves, bright-colored flowers, and some critter beads/charms (bees, birds, bears, fish). As the vines trailed down the sides, they would become darker, until at the bottom they would be beaded with dark brown, black, and darkest greens, with no critters, and only a few dark flowers. The visual message (I hope) would be, "this is what happens when we overpopulate the world." What do you think... leave it like it is now or bead the borders?

Global Population Information

Think of it this way. Every single month increasing world population adds another Los Angeles AND another Chicago to the planet. That's 24 gigantic cities worth of people added EVERY year; more than 240 giant cities every 10 years. Imagine how many cities full of people will be added in your life time. Crunch the numbers and see what you think.

Evidence of heavy population demand on resources is all around us. Global aquifers are being pumped 3.5 times faster than rainfall can naturally recharge them. Eventually they will run dry, perhaps as soon as 75 years. Topsoil is being lost 10-40 times faster than it is formed.  Feeding all 7+ billion of us is increasingly difficult, impossible actually.

There is no technology solution to accommodate the increasing demand of uncontrolled global population growth. The only solution is voluntary one child per couple for a couple of generations, on a Global participation level. If all countries followed the lead of countries with the lowest birth rates (Taiwan, Spain, Portugal, South Korea, and Poland), we could reach a more sustainable Global population of 3 billion by 2100!

Please, talk about this with your child-bearing-aged kids, grand kids, students, etc. We teach environmentally sound practices in most schools, write books and make documentary films about issues like clean water, over-fishing, fracking, etc. But rarely does the topic center on overpopulation. Be proactive. Make it happen.

If you are willing to read (or listen to an audio book) to learn more about Global population, Count Down is an excellent read.

Here is a link to the previous bead embroidery pieces (and poems) I've made concerning population growth.Thank you for reading all the way to the end, and for anything you can do to help people understand what we need to do.




Thursday, October 27, 2016

I have Dupuytren’s Disease


Last November an odd, rather hard, bump suddenly appeared in the palm of my right hand. A few weeks later, in a routine physical exam, I asked my Dr. what the lump might be. She thought it was a harmless, ganglion cyst. In January, suddenly two more lumps appeared in the same area of my palm, about a half inch below my little and ring fingers. Feeling some concern about this, I made an appointment with a hand specialist, a surgeon, who told me with absolute certainty that I had Dupuytren’s Disease.

Dupuytrens Disease, stage N, my right hand

In case you are wondering, Dupuytren (pronounced sort of like doo-pi-tron), is the name of a French surgeon who pioneered a surgical treatment for the disease in 1831. With thanks to the internet, especially The International Dupuytren Society website and forum, I have learned a lot about this disease and have since taken steps to prevent or at least slow its further development.

Dupuytren’s Disease (also called Dupuytren's contracture) is basically a non-malignant, tumor-building, auto-immune disease that affects the hands, with about a 40% chance of eventually turning a functioning hand into a claw which cannot be opened. The disease targets the tiny fibers which join the skin on the palm and fingers to the structure of the hand (bone, muscles, tendons, nerves). The fibers become enlarged, hardened, and inflexible. In roughly 60% of the people who have it, the disease at some point goes dormant, leaving the person with partial to full use of their hand(s). For the unlucky 40% who lose the use of their hand(s), the options are grim. Surgery to remove the fibrous tumors, along with 6 months of physical therapy following surgery, is a horrendous ordeal. And often the small bits of remaining tumor grow and spread, resulting in a closed, useless hand again some months or years later. There is no known cure.
You can skip this paragraph if you are not so interested in the disease in general. In the following paragraphs, I’ll tell you about my personal experience with it so far... Some other names for Dupuytren’s Disease are: claw hand, Viking disease, palmar fascia contracture, and flexion contracture. Because it often causes one or more fingers to curl inward toward the palm, it is sometimes confused with trigger finger, an entirely different affliction. It is linked to heredity, Northern European descent, diabetes and other auto-immune diseases. Men are more likely to have it than women, and its incidence increases in older (over 50) folks for both men and women. Often it is dormant until there is injury or trauma to the hand(s). There are currently four categories of treatment: radiation therapy (successful only in the very early developmental stage of the disease), needle aponeurotomy (generally considered for stage 1 or 2 of the disease with 6 to 90 degrees of deformation), collagenase injection (also stage 1 or 2), and surgery (advanced stages).
Dupuytrens Disease, my right hand prior to symptoms showing
This is a copy-machine scan of my right hand in August, 2012. At that time, I probably had the disease, but there were no obvious signs of it.

my hand (beaded), before onset of Dupuytren's Disease
This is a piece I created using the above scan. It celebrates the many blessings of my hand. Who knew that 4 years later it would be in jeopardy.
If you know me at all, you know that I love to stitch! Give me a needle and thread, a few beads or layered fabric that needs hand-quilting, and I am in heaven. If I couldn’t stitch, I’d be miserable. Already, I noticed (in January) that my right (dominant) hand was losing flexibility and strength. I dropped things all of the time because my grip was not as strong. And I could not spread my fingers or flex them backwards. The progression was alarmingly fast at that time, and affected my ability to hold and control a needle, scissors, etc.

So, as I learned more and more about the possible development of my disease, I decided to take an immediate step to get radiation therapy, which reportedly has an 85 to 93% chance of halting further development of the disease, if taken when the disease is in its initial, active, developmental phase. The treatment consists of 5 + 5, daily, low-dose, radiation sessions (with a 3 month or more interval between the first and second five sessions).

In the USA, the medical profession has mostly chosen to ignore the early stages of the disease, because (I guess) it only becomes a serious issue for about 40% of those who have it, and they (like me) are mostly older folks with a good chance of dying before the disease becomes seriously debilitating. Until quite recently, treatment has been in the realm of the surgeons. The one who diagnosed me, for example, did not even mention radiation therapy. He simply said that if it got worse, much worse, we could consider surgery.

For this reason, not many hospitals or insurance plans offer or cover radiation therapy. I discovered that it is offered by Overlake Hospital in Bellevue, WA, but not covered by my Medicare Insurance Plan. The out-of-pocket expense for the treatments for one hand would be a whopping $25,000 if I chose to pay for it myself. Even if my insurance had covered it, my cost would still have been 20% or $5,000. So I began to look into other options.

Dupuytren's disease, markup of nodules and cords on both hands

I learned that one of the Radiation Treatment Centers in Germany had been treating about 300 Dupuytren patients per year since the mid-1980s, and keeping extensive follow-up records on their patients. The total cost of treatments for one hand is $1,800. I figured if I bought airline tickets enough in advance and stayed in low-cost lodging, I could make two trips to Germany and get the treatments for a lot less than I would pay in the USA.  A few emails later, I had an appointment for my first clinic visit and treatment in Hamburg, Germany, April 23, 2016. My cost for lodging and travel expenses and the first round of treatments was just under $3,000.

Dupuytren's disease, radiation therapy in Hamburg, Germany
The RT machine just before my last treatment. It will be lowered to just above my hand for the 30 +/- seconds of the radiation.
Good news! I just returned from the second (last) round of treatments, with the cost being less because of cheaper airfare and no initial exam/treatment plan. The total cost for both trips to Germany and the treatments was about 1/5 of what it would have been close to home in Bellevue, WA!

Although I also have the disease in my left hand, it has not developed enough yet to warrant radiation treatment, and (with luck) may never do so. On this second visit, the Dr. was pleased to tell me that he could detect no further progression of the disease in my right hand since the first series of treatments. I’m hoping to be among the lucky 90 or so percent who never see further development of the disease. Although I’m slower and clumsier than I was 10 months ago, I can still sew, bead, crochet, and knit! Let’s hear it for taking quick, affirmative action!

If you have this disease or know anyone who does, you/they can find specific information and links here, including the details of when, where, how much, and by whom I had the treatments.

And last of all, here is a link to an interesting article, featuring 7 famous people who have Dupuytren's Disease.
 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Hexie 2 Report - 733 Hexie Flowers Finished!

hexie flowers, detail, Robin Atkins

I started cutting scraps of fabric to make hexie flowers on September 1, 2015. After 9 months of labor, I have just finished stitching the 733rd flower!  I'll do the math for you... That's 5,131 hexies. They are small ones, 3/4 inch per side. The finished flowers measure just under 4" in diameter.

44 hexie flowers, Robin Atkins

To give you an idea, this is what 44 hexie flowers look like. In case you don't know, for each hexie, the fabric is cut, and then basted over a paper, hexagon-shaped form. The hexies are then hand-stitched together to make the flowers. It takes about 1 hour to make one hexie flower, start-to-finish; thus 44 hours to make the batch above. Click the photo to see better detail of this process, which is called English paper piecing.


733 hexie flowers, Robin Atkins
And here are all 733 hexie flowers! Each flower is a different fabric. Although a few of the flower petal fabrics were also used for flower centers, I'm certain that there are over 1,000 different fabrics used in these flowers.

What's next? Well, I'm going to build a design wall using sound-proofing foam-board covered with a king-sized flannel sheet. I haven't quite figured out how to make it yet.

When the design wall is ready, I'll get out my hexie flowers and start to "paint" with them. Who knows what will emerge? Not me. I only have a vague idea that I might want to try "painting" an abstract view of our island shoreline.

When the "painting" process is finished, I'll stitch the flowers together in small groups, and then stitch the groups together. The result, hopefully in my lifetime, will be a queen-sized, non-traditional style, hexie quilt!

Thanks to everybody who shared scraps of fabric for me to use!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

For those interested, here is a link to a "time study" and photos of my previous hexie quilt, Mama's Garden!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Does Machine Quilting Enhance Quilts that are otherwise Hand-Sewn?

Oh dear, I'm sorry to have neglected posting here for so long. Although many suitable topics and photos have passed through my mind and camera, there just hasn't seemed to be a nice chunk of time available for putting it all together. Today is the day to begin again!

quilt, Inspired by Alice, Marilyn Lidstom Larson, border detail
Inspired by Alice, by Marilyn Lidstrom Larson of Willow City, ND (detail of border)

For the past two months, it's been all about quilts and quilting for me, with beading taking a bit of a back seat for a while. My quilt and travel buddy, Lunnette, and I flew to Ontario, California for The Road to California, which is a ginormous quilt show with more than 1,000 quilts on exhibition and over 200 vendors. We gawked (and spent all of our allotted budget) for 3 whole days, barely noticing our fatigue and sore footies.

There are several intriguing subjects to cover, inspired by our experiences there. Today's post is about traditional applique and machine quilting.

quilt, Inspired by Alice, Marilyn Lidstom Larson
Inspired by Alice, by Marilyn Lidstrom Larson of Willow City, ND
photo credit (for this photo only): Road 2 CA

quilt, Inspired by Alice, Marilyn Lidstom Larson, detail of maching quilting
Inspired by Alice, by Marilyn Lidstrom Larson, detail showing back

quilt, Inspired by Alice, Marilyn Lidstom Larson, detail of applique
Inspired by Alice, by Marilyn Lidstrom Larson, detail of center

quilt, Inspired by Alice, Marilyn Lidstom Larson, detail of maching quilting
Inspired by Alice, by Marilyn Lidstrom Larson, detail of center quilting
Inspired by Alice, shown in the photos above, won the first prize of $1,000 in the Traditional, Wall, Applique category of the main (judged) exhibit! Take a moment to study the pictures, click on them to enlarge them, notice the way the applique and machine quilting compliment each other. Also think about what this might have looked like if the maker, Marilyn Lidstrom Larson, had hand-quilted her work the way Alice, her grandmother (and inspiration for the central portion of the quilt), would have done. I love this quilt, totally love it, and believe it deserved the award it received.

At the same time, it saddens me that in all the juried/judged shows I've seen (and entered) recently, there is no category specifically for hand sewn quilts... quilts which are hand-pieced, hand-appliqued, hand-embroidered, and/or hand-embellished, and finished with hand-quilting. Nope, hand-sewn quilts are judged right along with machine-sewn quilts. In my observation, machine-quilted pieces are the ones that win almost all the prizes, even in the traditional categories. Why is that? Is hand-quilting considered passe, a thing of our grandmothers' time? Is it because machine-quilting has more pizzazz in the viewers' and makers' eyes? Is it because the machine manufacturers are huge financial supporters of these shows and providers of much of the prize money? Is it because the machine manufacturers run the training programs for judges?

OK, let's look into this subject a bit more. Later, I'll tackle the subject of the influence of the machine manufacturers. For now let's consider this question:

Does machine-quilting enhance quilts that are otherwise hand-sewn?

Interestingly, at Road to California this year, there was a small exhibit of hand-sewn quilt tops, made long ago (most of them in the early 1900s) that were not quilted or layered with back and batting by the maker. These tops were given to modern machine quilters to finish, and the results were displayed. Studying them gave me a greater perspective on the above question.

I found myself looking at them through the imagined eyes of the original maker. Would she have been pleased with the finished quilt?  As you look at some of the quilts below (and in a few cases, detail shots), ask yourself, if you had hand-sewn the top, would you have liked the way it looks today? Does the machine quilting enhance the work of the original maker? I've numbered the quilts (in no particular order), so you can respond (regarding specific quilts) in the comments if you wish. As always, you can click on the photos to enlarge them.
vintage quilt top, modern machine quilted, exhibited at Road to California 2016
#1 - Vintage Top with Modern Machine Quilting

vintage quilt top, modern machine quilted, exhibited at Road to California 2016
#1 - Vintage Top with Modern Machine Quilting, detail

vintage quilt top, modern machine quilted, exhibited at Road to California 2016
#2 - Vintage Top with Modern Machine Quilting

vintage quilt top, modern machine quilted, exhibited at Road to California 2016
#3 - Vintage Top with Modern Machine Quilting

vintage quilt top, modern machine quilted, exhibited at Road to California 2016
#3 - Vintage Top with Modern Machine Quilting, detail

vintage quilt top, modern machine quilted, exhibited at Road to California 2016
#3 - Vintage Top with Modern Machine Quilting, detail

vintage quilt top, modern machine quilted, exhibited at Road to California 2016
#4 - Vintage Top with Modern Machine Quilting

vintage quilt top, modern machine quilted, exhibited at Road to California 2016
#5 - Vintage Top with Modern Machine Quilting

vintage quilt top, modern machine quilted, exhibited at Road to California 2016
#5 - Vintage Top with Modern Machine Quilting, detail
What do you think of these? Which tops are enhanced by the machine quilting? Are there any that don't look right to you? If so, why not?

Since there is quite a difference looking at the photos as opposed to seeing the actual quits, my responses to these questions might be different than yours. To my eyes, #1 offers a believable connection and balance between the quilting and the original applique or piecing. It felt like the original maker would have done something very similar, only by hand.

I didn't want the quilting to overpower the original as it does in #3 and #5. Both of these were so stiff from the dense quilting, that it would be like sleeping under a piece of cardboard. Both of them made me feel disjointed. The lovely charm and grace of the original work seemed lost. I'm not sure why, but the background color created by machine quilting with colored thread in #5 seems almost weird... maybe because it's such an unlikely choice for the period.

Number 4 has the look of a chenille bedspread, both pretty and more-or-less "of the period." It works for me, even though the quilting is dense. The same is true for #2.

More from Road to California coming soon...