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Sunday, 7 August 2022

Dye bliss in Bali

Three images – a stone path through palm trees, natural coloured fabric drying on a clothesline and a white woman holding out her hands covered in blue dye.

I can't tell you how wonderful it is being out in the world again, and what joy to feel warm and away from a cold Melbourne winter. And that's just the start – the real fun has been spending six days at Threads of Life, batiking and dyeing fabric to my heart's content.

The first two days were spent in a workshop, or induction, as I got to learn about the studio and their processes as well as try out a number of different dye colours and batiking (which I hadn't done since my trip to Eswatini in 2017).

The pictures above are from the next stage of my time at Threads of Life – four days in the studio doing my own thing. The middle picture shows you where I started. I packed more of the natural Japanese cotton that I had about a bolt and a half of from an estate sale. Being unbleached I knew I wouldn't end up with the crisp blues associated with indigo dye on white, but I used some of it successfully in a quilt recently and I didn't want to buy new fabric.
An open dye studio with timber pitched roof
The dye studio as seen from in front of the dye garden.
Early on in my wanderings around Ubud I'd come across the Ikat Batik shops where they had many examples of batiking on a natural-coloured cotton and then dyed with indigo. I really loved the results so that convinced me I was taking the right approach.

I had intended to dye with a few other colours, but not all were available and nor were they right for dyeing in this season, so I worked with the indigo and the brown – Ceriops tagal (Indian mangrove) bark.
Looking into a grove of plants and trees from a paved area.
Looking at the Threads of Life dye garden from the studio. All the dye plants and mordants are labelled so you can learn about everything you're using.
Overall, I probably spent one of the four days preparing the fabrics including scouring, stitching (for the shibori) and waxing for the batik. I had a bit of a frustrating time with the batik on the first day, but washed the wax out of two overnight and went back to much better results on day two. In the end, I wish I'd spent more time on the batik. The pieces I did were about a fat-eighth in size. I had very definite project ideas for most things before I started, and the batik does take a very long time, so maybe I'll have to save more for another trip.
Four folded fabrics each with a geometric batik pattern overdyed with indigo
The results of my batik experiments.
Two of my four days would have been spent in dyeing. With the blues, I wanted to achieve a gradient of colours (shown below). It's not perfect by any means, but I'm really happy with it as a first attempt. I will be combining these with the original colour of cotton to make a pieced quilt (although it's likely on the list for 2023 given the things I have organised for the rest of this year).
A gradient of six indigo-dyed blues from dark to light, left to right.
The last of the blues were the shibori pieces. The bottom piece below is a stitched technique I've used before, and although time-consuming, I'm pleased with the results each time. The top piece is a willow pattern, which I will definitely use again. The third piece wasn't really a success as I didn't have a wide enough PVC pipe to use. I ended up cutting it into smaller pieces and re-tying in various ways. Those will likely end up in a quilt back or some such.
Two pieces of shibori work
Next were the browns. Even with only two shades to manage, there's barely any difference (top two fabrics below). Dyeing the brown produces a really bright colour to start, but it's much paler on drying and takes a lot of dipping to achieve something rich and intense. I dyed my first pieces below when the pot was really warm, almost too hot to put my hands in, and I suspect that's the difference (compared to the ones I dyed on my workshop days). Putting the fabric in stone-cold water may be next to useless.

One thing the brown dye did show up were the faults in my fabric. A more dense weave at the top and bottom near the selvedge and a thicker thread running through the middle. Once seen, it's definitely visible on all the solid dyes, but I'm just viewing it as added interest and the hand of the maker – who knows really?

The bottom fabric below is an Alabama Chanin jersey. My aunt chose two deadly boring colours for me to sew up for her. They were so dull... Thankfully she's since embraced some bright colours that suit her much better, but it leaves me dealing with the leftovers. I'll see if this is any more inspiring once I give it another wash. Sadly I think it's the back of the jersey that's taken the colour better than the front shown below.
The equivalent of one full day in the studio was spent washing and finishing the fabrics. This was my seat for all of Saturday. It's the big stool... I kid you not. Most of them are at least an inch shorter and have half the surface area for planting your backside. That black drum in the distance is 650L and is tall enough that I rest my elbows on it when dipping my hands in for dyeing. That should give you some sense of scale for the stool. It's a wonder I could get up from it to be honest!
A small wooden stool surrounded by plastic washing tubs with a large, black plastic bin in the distance.
It was a really good feeling when I hung it all out to dry on the end of the fourth day and could look at what I achieved. Almost everything turned out as I hoped and I'm looking forward to getting back to the sewing machine after this burst of much-needed inspiration. I'm already planning a return trip!


Sunday, 26 June 2022

Warp and Weft gets a makeover

Throw size Spectrum Warp and Weft kits are available from Piece Fabric Co.

I'm sure most of you know the Warp and Weft quilt was my first pattern release, and while I love picking colours, being a newbie quilt designer, I probably didn't think through how hard it might be for other people to choose their own for this quilt. Consequently, I only ever saw versions of the original colourway, inspired by the cochineal dyes and weaving of Oaxaca. You can see my photo journal of making the original Kaffe Fassett, Rowan shot cotton one here.

I figured if I was ever going to choose new colourways for the Warp and Weft pattern, then lockdown 2020 was going to be the time. My first ideas were for a version in blues and greens, and while the Rowan shots are plentiful in reds and pinks there were nowhere near enough cool colours, so I needed another perennial range of fabrics – one that was always going to be available. I didn't have to look far in Oakshott. 

Michael at Oakshott sent me the swatches – thankfully before the mail system completely ground to a halt – and I spent multiple sessions on the floor like this playing with colour gradations. I even tried to recreate the original cochineal colourway in Oakshott and looking at this pic now, I might still write it up...

a quilt folded lengthwise on the floor surrounded by coloured fabric swatches some lined up to match the quilt

One of the harder things in developing this pattern is representing the colours properly in the PDF so you, the maker, can see as accurately as possible how the finished quilts might look in these fabrics. That's where this handy little Aussie gadget comes in. It's called a Cube


Basically you rest it against any coloured surface and it reproduces the colour breakdown in an app. I thought it might struggle with the shot cottons given the warp and weft are different colours in the weave, but I have to say the representation is pretty damn accurate! Certainly more accurate than I could have achieved myself by eye. Lately I've been using it to detect colours in a painting that I'm going to get the paint shop to reproduce as a wall colour – stay tuned for that one.

Once the blue was done I couldn't resist returning to Oaxaca for another colourway. This time I looked to the painted buildings of the city. We seem to be so frightened of colour in the anglicised world. In Australia we're constantly told to keep our house interior colours neutral to increase the value at resale – BORING! I love the approach in Oaxaca where colour is added to everything.

So now the pattern is updated with both the Ocean and the Spectrum colourways I'm already seeing people having fun with it and doing their own thing. Karen made her version of the Spectrum throw with a decidedly gelato combination of Tilda chambray fat quarters and Tilda dots. I love this addition of a common patterned fabric in each row.

Cheri decided to take the new elements of the wallhanging (pictured below) and a Kona Bird of Paradise pack and expand it. Aren't the colours delicious? They have me dreaming of hot summers here in winter Melbourne. Head over to Cheri's Instagram feed to see the final layout she came up with. 

Kendra at Piece Fabric Co has put some kits together for the Spectrum throw here and I do happen to know from a customer that she sorted the fabrics for a queen size Spectrum this week which I can't wait to see!

I'm so glad these new colourways are out of my head and updated in the pattern. What other fabrics can you imagine using for a version of the Warp and Weft?

New wallhanging layout – Autumn colourway.

Thursday, 2 June 2022

Studio internship – applications open

Yep! You read correctly. Now I have a studio it's time to get some extra hands on deck. 

The information below should be everything you need to know before applying, but if you have any questions, drop me an email at the address below.

And please feel free to share this with anyone you think might be interested. It's posted on both my Instragram and Facebook feeds for easy sharing.

The position

Internships at Stitch & Yarn are paid, short-term contracts of 2–3 days per week over an 8-week period based in West Melbourne. 

Role description

The studio intern provides day-to-day support for Stitch & Yarn textile projects including: 

  • sorting, organising and cataloguing fabric
  • deconstructing garments for upcycling
  • cutting, ironing and piecing quilts, cushions etc
  • hand-stitching binding and hanging sleeves
  • general assistance for photographic shoots
  • general studio administration.

There will also be the opportunity to undertake a design project and/or social media takeover if desired.

Skills you'll need

  • Solid sewing skills – both by hand and with a sewing machine.
  • Organisational ability, particularly for fabric sorting.
  • Superior time-management.
  • Attention to detail
  • A love of learning
  • A willingness to admit mistakes

Experience

There is no set career path we are seeking and welcome students and graduates along with older workers looking for a career change. 

How to apply

Applications are open for Q3 2022 (July–September) and Q4 2022 (October–December).

Applications close 5pm AEST 17 June 2022

To apply, please email the following to hello[at]stitchandyarn[dot]com:

  • a one-page CV as it applies to this role 
  • answers to the following questions, in 200 words or less (for each):
    • What do you hope to gain out of this internship?
    • Which textile artist/designer are you most inspired by and why? 
    • How do you incorporate environmental sustainability into your daily life?
  • four images of your sewing work as jpg files, no larger than 4MB each. Two of the images should be full project shots and the other two should be detail shots.
  • your preference for Q3 or Q4
  • your social media handles if appropriate


Tuesday, 29 March 2022

Travels with my Aunt

This quilt has been patiently waiting to get its moment in the spotlight, and since it was finally gifted on the weekend, it now can. A good friend of mine had a zero birthday at the end of last year, so the seeds of this started way back in lockdown in 2020 – sketching out ideas and playing with design options.

And then sepsis happened – and geez I hope this is the last time that experience has to come into a quilt story! My original design had been quite complicated, stretching my skills and forcing me to learn some new ones. It would also have taken me most of 2021 to execute. That wasn't an option anymore. I arrived back in Melbourne from recuperating at Mum's in June, but even then a full size quilt was beyond me. A baby quilt was more my speed at that point.

What to do? What I always do of course... Start with colour, and go big!

The palette was easy, as my friend has a very specific set of colours that decorate her home.

At left taken on a trip to Paris in 2019 and her Princess Zoe at right in all her palette perfection.

Red on Maroon Mural, Section 4 1959
Then the two things floating around my head in terms of inspiration were Rothko and Liberty. Now, I know that sounds like chalk and cheese but she's a fan of both so I went down a research rabbit hole. 

In terms of Rothko, I started with this image she took in London at the Tate in 2018. It was his works with large bands and blocks of colour that I thought could be useful and I've saved a few of them over on Pinterest here.

I then went to the Liberty website. Tana Lawn was out of the question given the size I wanted to work in, so I headed straight for the upholstery section, and that's where I hit the jackpot. These are all part of the Liberty Interiors collection, in soft pinks and greys with a touch of gold and an art deco theme, which I knew would also be appreciated. 

Then it became a matter of deciding how to include these into a design. To purchase the fabric I could only buy metre cuts at a minimum, and the price is eye-watering compared to quilting yardage – literally ten times – so I had to be a bit smart. I noticed that I could purchase swatches which were quite large at about 7.5" square and reasonably priced, so I started using that limitation in my design sketches before I committed to the order.
This is where I ended up. It was a bit of a gamble ordering the Liberty without knowing whether these large sections of solids would be possible to match, but it was a gamble I was willing to take and the swatches were ordered. Naturally it was still a bit of Covid-posting nightmare but UK-Aus was working reasonably well and they only got held up in Singapore for about ten days.
Once I had the Liberty in hand I thought I'd head to Millrose Cottage as I knew their selection of Japanese linens was good and I figured I might at least make a start there. Well, the quilting gods were on my side for this one and I couldn't believe the beautifully textured options in just the right colour palette.

All the fabrics bar the middle one below were purchased there. The far left is the only standard quilting solid. For the next couple of weeks I carried little swatches of these fabrics and the Liberty ones around in a bag anytime I was going near a fabric shop. It was Tessuti that came up trumps with that lovely middle linen.
By this time my body was well enough for me to manage piecing this and the crawling around on the floor it was going to involve. Squaring fabrics was going to be key here and I knew that loose weave on the right above was going to be my biggest headache. I used a mixture of pulled threads, following the fabric pattern and a laser tile level to square everything up. I think I also measured everything at least four times before cutting. Those pieces are so big, there was no room for recuts if I stuffed something up. 

Another thing I had to be mindful of was the different weaves for the Liberty. I used a thicker than normal needle for a couple of them and went pretty slowly over those round cut velvet sections. I also noted that one of the finer fabrics marked when I pinned it, so I was very careful to avoid that after I'd done it once. And last, even though ironing the seams open is normally my approach, it wasn't always appropriate here given a number of the Liberty ones couldn't be directly ironed.

Once constructed it was on to the quilting. There was still no way I could handle a queen size just yet so off it went to Sweetgum Quilting. I had some ideas about the pattern, but let's face it, it's not my strong suit and when Valerie suggested this absolutely perfect Art Deco edge-to-edge I was immediately sold on it. I don't normally face bed quilts but I didn't want a thin border detracting from these large shapes so I went with facing and I'm very glad I did.
And the name 'Travels with my Aunt'? Well we both love to travel and are both partly defined by being aunts so I borrowed the name from Graham Greene and that's what it's been known as while I work.
I don't know about you, but I think it's nice to name something you spend so much time with.

Sunday, 28 November 2021

A long time in the making – the Positively Square quilt

I shared the first tentative pics of the making of this quilt back in September 2020, but the inspiration for it is lost in the mists of time. I do remember being motivated to play around with plus blocks when Curated Quilts did a callout for their Plus edition, but the actual specifics of this one are long gone...

Maybe I was on a roll with the denim, as the Laid Back quilt had just come out and I was working on the pattern for the pouffes – there's nothing like a bit of pattern-writing procrastination to get the creative juices flowing!

I turned the underside of the spare room bed into a design wall during lockdown.

Construction of the Positively Square quilt is fairly straightforward (most of my patterns are) and I've written it for both denim and conventional quilting fabrics as well as for with bias tape and without.

I sandwiched my version by tying and then added red hand quilting to match the bias tape (as you can see below), before finishing it off with big-stitch binding in dark blue thread on red fabric.

But enough of my version, let's take a look at what my testers have done with the pattern. I love it when quilters take my patterns and really make them their own, and honestly, I was blown away by all the variations these guys came up with.

First up we have Diana's (@dianavandeyar), which uses solids in a palette that is pure Diana – unexpected but perfect! I'm a big fan of brown and that peachy pink is an all-time favourite. Diana took her own approach to colour placement and layout, but if you're a bit nervous about that kind of thing, the pattern will give you guidance.

Julia's (@cactusflowerfabrics) quilt top below uses a mix of patterns and solids. What I really like in this quilt is the way the blocks move towards being totally solid from top left to bottom right.

The pattern uses a mix of dark and mid tones on light as well as light and mid tones on dark, but of course you can get a similar effect using patterns versus solids, and mix it up a bit as both Diana and Julia have done.

Next we have Amy's (@amyjakobs). While Amy used a tonal approach with the denim, she switched it up by adding the odd green block (also a brilliant approach if you ran out of denim!) and then randomly used green bias tape over the edges of some of blocks (rather than just the corners).

Amy's denim Positively Square quilt with the odd green block

Then we have Vicki's quilt (@vpquilter). She's taken another path entirely and instead of alternating between the solids and patterned fabric to make the blocks, she's always kept the patterned fabrics forming the plus shape and then mixed up the background colours of each block which gives the quilt a completely different look.

Last, but not least is Melissa's (@hovdemelissa). I confess to loving her quilts-in-the-wild pics. There was clearly a bit of wind, but it just adds to the charm of them. Go check out her Insta feed to see the rest. Melissa has made her quilt from upcycled denim, but then used a mix of different coloured pre-made bias tape that she inherited. She was worried that some were different widths to others, but I don't think that matters in the slightest – it's a great overall effect.
Bravo testers! They're such a fabulous bunch of quilts to have showing off the versatility of this pattern – thank you! 

If you have a go at this one, make sure you tag pics with #positivelysquarequilt on social media so we can see the approach you take – I hope you have as much fun with it as my testers and I did.