ELAINE QUEHL, Quilt Artist, Teacher, Dyer, Designer

Friday, October 28, 2011

Frequently Asked Questions

There are a number of questions I am frequently asked about products I use, so I thought I would address these in a blog post.

What batting do I use?
If I had a dollar for every time I am asked this question, I would be a rich woman! It happens after nearly every trunk show, and in nearly every workshop I teach. Here is the answer: Quilters Dream Cotton. The majority of my quilts contain Quilters Dream Cotton in "Request" weight (their lowest loft batting). I don't need warmth for art quilts, and using a light-weight batting keeps the quilt flat and light for shipping to shows and storing in small spaces. I am often asked if I've tried bamboo batting, etc. No, I haven't, I am very happy with Quilters Dream Cotton, Request weight, and have no need to change. I also doubt that my work would look very different with another batting, it just might be thicker or loftier. I'm far more concerned about improving my design than changing my batting.

What cotton do I use for my hand-dyed fabrics?
I use "Combed Cotton Lawn" from TrendTex Fabrics in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. They are a wholesaler, so you can ask any quilt shop you frequent to order it for you (Item 1377, Colour 10). In order to buy wholesale from TrendTex you need to be a business and you have to meet their first-time minimum order policy of $1,000. I love the high thread count of this cotton, and have not found one that dyes more vibrantly. It is pfd (prepared for dyeing) so you don't need to scour it (just wet and wring before dyeing), and it has a beautiful sheen that shows off the vibrant colour to its maximum.

Why doesn't my raw-edge applique fray?
Two reasons. One is the high-quality, high-thread count cotton I use (details above), and the other is the Steam a Seam fusible web I use in my work (details below).

What fusible web do I use?
I prefer Steam a Seam Lite. There are four Steam a Seam products (all sold by the Warm Company):
1. Steam a Seam: Regular weight fusible with one backing paper.
2. Steam a Seam 2: Regular weight fusible with two backing papers.
3. Steam a Seam Lite: light-weight fusible with one backing paper.
4. Steam a Seam Lite 2: light-weight fusible with two backing papers.
I prefer the light-weight fusible web with one backing paper (Steam a Seam Lite). I don't need the second backing paper and it gets thrown out anyway. Any Steam a Seam product with a "2" after it will have a backing paper on each side (two papers). This means the product has more of the pressure-sensitive, re-positionable adhesive (on both sides actually), but I find the lite one has enough of this property to keep me happy. I find Steam a Seam products easy to use, consistently reliable, and the pressure sensitive adhesive lets me build a design that stays together until I'm sure I want to make it permanent with an iron.
BEWARE: Steam a Seam gets old if you don't store it in an air-tight container! When it is old it starts coming away from the paper and is harder to use.

It only occurred to me a couple of weeks ago, while teaching at the QUINCE Jam Retreat, just how much Steam a Seam gets sold because of me. A student who was registered in all of my classes at this retreat reported that she needed a total of SEVEN meters of Steam a Seam for the classes. Hmmm ... maybe I should tell the company.

What sewing machines do I use?
My main sewing machine is a Bernina 150 that I purchased in 1998. It is simple, easy to use, and good quality. It has all the important features I love: needle down, good stitch, good tension, and a knee lift. I can put the free-motion foot on, drop the feed dogs, and proceed to quilt. I really have no desire for a more updated machine. I also have a small Janome Gem Platinum that is a dynamic little travel machine. It is light, has many of the features of the bigger and more expensive Janomes, and cost very little. I take it with me when I want to sew on the road or when I need to do a demo in class.

Does my sewing machine have a stitch regulator?
No it doesn't. I learned to free motion quilt before stitch regulators. I also love the humanness of "unregulated stitching". It is almost like a hand signature.

Do I have a special quilting frame or long arm?
No. I do all my quilting on my domestic sewing machine.

What kind of sewing machine needles do I use for machine quilting?
For more than a decade, I successfully used the following:
"Quilting" for cotton or polyester threads
"Embroidery" for rayon threads (loosen upper tension 1 or 2 notches)
"Metallica" for metallic threads (loosen upper tension quite a bit, often down to 1.
This system worked so well for me that when I heard about Superior Thread's advice to use a 90/14 needle I paid little attention. However, after testing it, and seeing how much simpler this would make the life of my students, I have switched to recommending Topstitch 90/14 needles only. It means students only need to buy one type of needle, and it works!

What kind of thread do I use?
I have a huge stash of threads I've collected over the last 15 years and will use any brand from that stash if it is the right colour for the project. However, when I go to purchase threads these days it is almost always Superior Threads. The company educates about its products to ensure that you will be successful using them, and all their threads are manufactured in Japan where most of the best quality threads are being made these days. We have our own Canadian educator, Anita Zobens in Dundas, Ontario, who also sells Superior Threads from her website.

Am I ever going to use commercial fabrics again?
That depends. 99% of the time I use my own hand-dyes because low-water immersion dyeing produces a mottled look that mimics the look of dappled light you will see in nature. My work is mostly inspired by nature. There are many batiks and some other commercial fabrics that can produce this look as well, but for the most part I prefer to dye my own and can get a wider range of values this way. I can't see me ever using calicoes and florals or patterned fabrics again, but never say never.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Too Much Fabric, Part 2

A friend wrote this morning and told me she was killing herself laughing about my "rob Peter to pay Paul" method of organization! She then reminded me that there was an important stash of fabric missing from my photos, and that would be my fabric store! Well the truth is that my fabric store doesn't fit in my house anymore so it resides in the trunk of my car, where it is always with me when I go on the road. People all over Ontario shop from my trunk!

Then I remembered the two bins of fabric under the guest bed. These are my older hand-dyes, from the days when I used a variety of cotton fabrics. I use these as backings, for samples, and sometimes take some of them to my Art Quilt Series class in case there is a colour students need for their design exercises.

This reminds me that there is also a bin of these fabrics in the back seat of my car because I couldn't bear to bring it back in the house and mess up all the organization I've accomplished.

And there is the drawer in the guest bedroom desk that contains pieces that didn't fit other drawers because they contained many colours, as well as some of the better older pieces. Sheesh. The chest I posted yesterday that contains the hand-dyed fabrics organized by colour is also in the guest bedroom. I really wish there were room in my studio, but that would mean moving the three large bookcases out, and I can't even bear the thought now.

I put the new pantry together today, and determined that if I put all the bins of green hosta fabric inside, there won't be enough room for the thread. So one bin is sitting on top of the pantry. The thread fits into the pantry (multi-coloured containers that used to be drawers in my old rickety thread stand). My two stacks of hand-dyes in meter sized pieces also fit. Things are looking up.

Ok, I put the backing sheet on backwards (brown side showing inside the pantry, white side on back. I'm glad it has doors because I'm not taking all those little finishing nails out!

Let's not talk about the bin of colourwash fabrics under the master bed. I can't bear to get rid of them, even though I have no plans to do colourwash again. Maybe by next week I'll actually get to do some creative work in this organized studio!

Oh, and did you know the term "master" bedroom has been changed to "main" bedroom? Someone recently corrected me as "master" has connotations of the male being the master of the house. I like this new language :-))

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Studio Organization - How Much Fabric is Too Much?

After seeing the spacious and well-organized studios of some of the quilters I stayed with on my last teaching trip, I came home in the mood to get organized. I spent the last few days combing through IKEA,JSYK, and Canadian Tire, looking for storage solutions.

Every time I dye fabric for my store, I end up keeping a little bit for me. For the last few years I have been putting that fabric whereever I could find a space. There were piles and collections of unrelated fabric all over my studio, in my studio closet, and in the guest room/computer room next door. I simply couldn't stand it anymore. But I also couldn't stand the mess that my stash of batiks and commercial fabrics was in or the state of my studio closet.

So the last few days I've taken all those piles of fabric, sorted them, and placed them in the appropriate drawers. I have a large chest of drawers that contains about half of my hand-dyed fabrics. At the moment it is nicely organized, although the drawers are groaning with the weight!

There is a green drawer, but you should know that it only contains all the greens that I don't use in my hosta quilts. More details on that in a minute.

There is also a blue drawer. Yes, I realize there are a few green pieces in here, but they are part of a blue to green colour run, and there just wasn't enough space in the green drawer for them!

There is a mostly purple drawer, that also contains some pinks and blue-reds.

and a drawer with warm colours (yellows, oranges and reds). You should also know that this drawer doesn't include the bin of fabrics I use(d)? for poppy quilts, or the bin of red fabrics I pulled when I was working on Red Stool.
Finally, there is a drawer with neutrals and warm earthy tones.
This drawer does not include the bin of end-of-season hosta fabric.
Or the 3 bins of green hosta fabric: a bin of lights, a bin of mediums, and a bin of darks.
There is also a drawer in another piece of furniture that contains all the hand-dyes that were so multi-coloured they didn't fit into a particular drawer.

I've also been working on organizing my studio closet. I purchased 10 collapsible bins for the two upper shelves at JSYK. They are very light, which is an important feature so they don't create too much stress on the upper closet shelves. In a former life, when I was a clothes horse, I once caused the upper shelves to collapse with too many sweaters. I store light things in these bins, like batting, stabilizers, organzas, etc. I also purchased several bins to organize my batiks and black & white fabrics. The bins will allow me to pull the entire drawer of the colour I want without having to move a stack of fabric to get to the one behind. You can see one bin there that is holding a mixed variety of fabrics. I tossed pieces of fabric that fit nowhere into this bin, and will sort it later (later is always my favorite time to tackle messy and unpleasant tasks!).

On the right side of the closet, I organized all my commercial fabrics by colour, and also sorted them into bins by colour. The problem? The bins from IKEA don't quite fit the shelves the way I had hoped, so there are still stacks of fabric behind them.

After all this organization, I find that my two large stacks of hand-dyed meters don't fit back in the closet.

Maybe they will fit into this great little pantry I purchased this morning at Canadian Tire for the great sale price of $49.99 (regularly $89.99).
The idea when I purchased the pantry was to get rid of my rickety thread storage unit:
and find a way to store my thread in this cabinet. But it looks like I might need the new cabinet for the 3 bins of green hosta fabric, the bin of end of season hosta fabric, and the two large stacks of hand-dyed meters. Maybe I could move the thread to these wonderful drawer units I bought at Home Sense last year. They sit to the left of my work table.
Right now they contain some of my photos and surface design products. I suspect the 10 small drawers of thread won't fit in these 6 drawers though, and if they do, where will I put the "stuff" that is in them?

Is there such a thing as "too much"? I confess my stash has gotten the better of me, and I think I need a bigger house!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Norfolk County Teaching Trip

Last night I returned from my two week teaching trip. I spent the second week teaching in Norfolk County, Ontario for the Norfolk Quilt Guild and the Norfolk Twilight Quilt Guild (the former meets during the day and the latter meets at night). The largest community in the region would be would be Simcoe. One of the things I love about this area of Ontario is that I can pass through Paris, Delhi, Scotland and Boston in the same day! During my trip I was billetted in three different homes over the week.

I began the week with a lecture and two workshops for the day guild. During this time I stayed at the home of Terry Anderson and her husband Rick. We went out for dinner a few times, including a visit to the Beach House at Port Dover, where we indulged in famous Lake Erie Perch. When I arrived at Port Dover I felt as though I was in the Caribbean! Palm trees grace the shore over the summer, but they are moved someplace warmer over the winter. However, Norfolk County is in a Carolinian growing zone, so I also noticed quite a few other crops and plants that I don't see in other parts of Ontario (tobacco, ginseng, peaches, etc).

Left to right are Terry, Darlene, Mary and me!
Because this guild chose workshops that produce larger and more time-consuming pieces I don't have photos of any finished pieces yet.

I spent the next four days with the evening guild (four workshops and a lecture). The Twilight Guild organized a day retreat and named it the QUINCE Jam Retreat (Quehl in Norfolk County Extravaganza). What, you may ask, is a Quince? Apparently it is a coarse and bitter apple. On-line encyclopedia Wikipedia doesn't recognize it as growing in Canada, but it does! Generally it is used for jam. I had never seen one before, but student Mary Ann Rich brought one to class for me, and it sat on my table as our mascot each day.
For the first two nights I stayed with April Maxwell and her husband Paul. Below is a photo of April holding the piece she composed in my "Fast and Fun Fused Designs" class. April is a potter and President of the local Potter's Guild. I wish I had taken a photo of her pottery studio and display area. I did come home with a few pieces of pottery though!
April and Paul share their home with two very large and beautiful cats, Marty and Duff. What an adorable pair of felines they are! I am not a small woman, but you can see I am pawsitively dwarfed by Marty! What a lovable bundle he is. I couldn't decide between the photo with his eyes open or closed!
This is Duff. He wasn't so sure about me, but he did show up to cuddle in my bed for about 5 minutes the first night.
I spent the last two nights at the home of Terry Sonnenberg and her husband John. They share their home with felines Atticus, Caruso and Macy. A feral cat named Cato also shows up outside for meals. That's Terry you see working away near the front of the classroom.
Atticus followed me to my room my first night there, and made himself comfortable in my bed as soon as I turned the blankets down. He purred, rested his head on my arm, and stretched his paws to touch me. He left the next morning without waking me. By the second night I was yesterday's news and he didn't come back.
The cats at Terry's house have a beautiful conservatory in the woods to enjoy. It is surrounded by glass windows on all sides.
This is the handsome Caruso. I did see Macy but she is shy and I was unable to capture her photo.
Members of the Norfolk Twilight Guild worked hard and made further progress on their collage trees than any class I've taught before. Here are some of the students in the class showing off their trees. When finished, the extra muslin needs to be cut away and the tree appliqued to a background.
As usual, there are too many photos of student work to share here, but I did want to draw attention to this lovely piece that Stella made in the "Fast and Fun Fused Designs" class.

It is good to be home again. It took me most of today to unpack and put things away. I have deadlines waiting: class descriptions, learning outcomes and marking schemes for next summer's classes at the Haliburton School of the Arts, and preparations for Saturday's Art Quilt class. It is also time to do the research for and purchase a digital projector so I will be prepared for trunk shows I need to fly to.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm blogging from Waterloo, Ontario (about a 6 hour drive from my home in Ottawa), where I am staying with my sister between my teaching gigs at Greenwood Quiltery in Guelph and two guilds in Simcoe, Ontario. In Ontario we are experiencing spectacular weather this Thanksgiving Weekend. Temperatures reached 25 degrees celsius (77 degrees fahrenheit) today.
Greenwood Quiltery is housed inside a beautiful historic home on Woolwich St. in Guelph. Greenwood Gallery is just above the shop, and the current show features the work of Dwayne Wanner of Burlington, Ontario.
The garden at the back of Greenwood Quiltery always welcomes me from the parking lot into the store.

Yesterday, Saturday, family members were invited to have Thanksgiving dinner with residents of St. Jacobs Place, the retirement residence where my father lives in St. Jacobs, Ontario.
On the left is my father, Norbert, and on the right is his friend and table mate, Leonard. Both men are 87 years old! My father typically refuses to eat his vegetables, and this day was no different. He has taken an attitude that he will only eat what he likes. At 87, perhaps I will do the same.

On Thanksgiving weekend we have a tradition of driving to the country, past the farm where I grew up and where my father was born as well. Most farms in this area have been bought up by Old Order Mennonite families, and it was no surprise to see this buggy just as we approached the farm (you can see the farm on the horizon line to the right)
Things look quite a bit different from when I lived there, but the house is still the same, built in the 1860's.
Here it is

We headed along my favorite road, Hessenstrasse, past Mennonite farms. The house and porch below caught my eye!
I pulled closer thinking they were quilts, but I do believe they are actually hooked rugs.
You will never see orange or yellow in the clothing or quilts or rugs of Old Order Mennonites. There is always purple, blue, green and magenta.

We made our yearly visit to Nauman's Pumpkin Farm, where I delighted in photographing autumn sights.

I found these late-season hostas behind the house. Notice the blossom pods still on the plants. I don't remember ever seeing this before in autumn.

The end-of-season sunflowers also provided lots of photo opportunities. Spectacular colour and texture!

I always love the drive down the lane, under a canopy of trees, leaving the farm. Most of the trees haven't changed colour yet as we have not had enough cold nights.

After dropping my father back at his residence, I visited the St. Jacobs Quilt Gallery. I have a show coming up here in July-September 2012. This is the first gallery I ever had a solo show in 2004. I named that show "Homegrown", and next year's show will be called "Encore" since it is my second time here. The current show is one of traditional quilts purchased at Mennonite Relief Sales.
Today my sister and I headed to Stratford, Ontario to see The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Stratford Festival. The tickets came compliments of Kerry Gage, who works at the Festival. Kerry and her family purchased one of my quilts this past spring for their mother, Sherry Clarmow's birthday. Kerry kindly gifted me with two tickets. The show was well done, and being a comedy, elicited lots of laughs.
The Avon River runs through Stratford, and the swans and ducks are a familiar site.
I loved the reflection of an autumn tree that shows through below the willow on this picture.
I've caught a virus and am battling a sore throat, headache and lots of sneezing. I am trying to rest my voice as I have had past experiences trying to teach with laryngitis. I have two lectures and 5-1/2 classes coming up next week, so I need a voice!

Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!