Friday, April 10, 2015

Fred and Marty

Quilt No. 104
April 2015

There has never been a time in my life when I didn't have at least one creative pursuit as my constant companion.  One of my very earliest memories is that of threading wool on a blunt plastic needle through pre-punched holes around a dog printed on a piece of cardboard.  There were other cards that came with the dog – maybe a duck and a horse, but really I didn't care a fig about the animals.  For me it was all about the needle and that single strand of wool. 

As the years went by I exchanged my over sized plastic needle for shinier and sharper metal needles. This started me down the long path that eventually took me to quilting. The route was long and circuitous.  By the age of six or seven I was already a jaded crafter who had wandered through knitting and button sewing and embroidery. I had become a serial crafter, living for my next needle.  In my endless quest for more, I made the discovery that a motorized version of the needle existed. It was called a sewing machine!  This opened up whole new creative vistas for me as I created a kickass Barbie doll wardrobe that would have made Pierre Cardin scream into his knickers and take up baseball. 

Peep and Squeak in original crewel work.

In the 1980’s my needle mania took me deep into crewel embroidery territory.  I embroidered fruit and birds and wishing wells.  Eventually I came to the Dimensions embroidery kit entitled “Peep and Squeak” designed by Linda K. Powell.  In it, a bird and a mouse sit atop a fence post, completely lost in the bliss of a routine day of easy companionship.  There are a few flowers around the base of the post, but the background is completely empty.  This framed piece hung on a wall for a number of years, eventually losing favour for no discernible reason.  The delightful bird and mouse silently took up residence at the back of a closet.  Every so often I would find them in there.  I would feel guilty.  I would close the closet door and turn my attention to something else.  They never seemed to mind.

After some experimentation with fabric paints one summer, I came up with an interesting piece of fabric that had a blue sky hovering over white leaves.  These were outlined in green, courtesy of the light-sensitive Setacolor dyes.  I had painted the dyes onto white cotton and topped it with mountain ash and other leaves and ferns from the surrounding forest at the cottage.  Next, I let nature takes its course (otherwise known as reading cheap novels on the dock).   The fabric turned out pleasing and vibrant, giving the impression of wind blown foliage.  It figured it would work well as a background fabric if I could find something that wouldn't get lost in the leaves.  

A few years went by before the dyed piece accidentally crossed paths with Peep and Squeak, proving yet again that you should never keep your creative stash too tidy.  Too much organization can be a creative buzz kill.  A stray piece of fabric thrown on a an old piece of embroidery could be the perfect surprise  marriage.   The mouse and bird had enough visual oomph to tame the background.  And since they were reinvented with a whole new look, I decided it was time to give them new names.  They became Fred and Marty.  Names like “Peep” and “Squeak” hardly seemed lofty enough after all that they had been through.

Quilt Notes

Step one was to pry the embroidery out of its frame, and tame the dust monster by hand washing the piece. Crewel work washes surprisingly well if you give it the same respect as a 100% wool sweater, and it comes out completely refreshed.  I then ironed fusible cotton onto the back of the sections prior to cutting out the individual pieces.  A large dose of audacity was required to take the scissors to a piece of embroidery that had once taken me several months to complete! 

 I left about a ¼ inch seam allowance and hand appliqu├ęd the bird/mouse/post piece and the clover pieces onto the background.  This required a lot of attention to detail in order to keep the heavy pieces of embroidery flat against the background. A lot of work had to be done to make the embroidered pieces appear complete again.  I added in crewel stitching where the background showed through, or where the wool strands had separated.  Most of the crewel work was outlined with new stitches in wool.  Finding matching wool was tricky even though I had kept much of the leftover wool from multiple projects my mother or I had completed decades ago.  The wool from the original Peep and Squeak kit was nowhere to be found.  Of course.

I then began free motion machine quilting the background using rayon thread, mostly following the outline of the leaves and then adding in quilted leaf shapes above those.  Gradually I began quilting lines in the sky that would suggest a blustery day.  I used smoke coloured polyester thread to quilt through all layers of wool and fabric to enhance the details in the characters, the post, and the flowers.  The stems for the clover were added on last of all.  The Fred and Marty relocation was complete.