ELAINE QUEHL, Quilt Artist, Teacher, Dyer, Designer

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Commission Update 2

What a winter it has been so far! We had an epic snowfall last night. I've been in the studio for weeks now and have finished all the parts of the central panel of the sunflower triptych commission. Here it is! What do you think?

Let me tell you a bit about the process and what I've learned while building this piece. I learned that my studio is small! I really had to clear the decks to work on the sunflower. I don't have a table big enough to hold the entire piece (4 ft x 4 ft) so I did the building on my design wall.

If you've taken a class with me, then you know that I often use a piece of muslin as the base on which I build my design. Usually the design is traced to the muslin so I know where to place each piece. For this sunflower, I only traced out the large areas (background, petal section, and centre) on a piece of muslin.

Then I put a base of background colour down for each section.Why? Because I knew there was going to be lots of dark green background, and I did not want to cut out all the little edges of the sunflower leaves and applique them to a background. Better to just attach them. I was also worried that if there were pieces of green tucked under the yellow petals I would get shadowing. This way there is shadowing under all the petals automatically so it will look consistent. I used a background fabric for the centre portions too because as you will see in a minute, there are times when the dark green and brown of the sunflower centre show through the small collage pieces in the centre. Having placed the background colours there will be no danger of the muslin peeking through the collaged pieces.

Once I had blocked out the background colours (above), I had to somehow trace my pattern onto them. So I had to line up the pattern on top of the fabric base, and place some Saral transfer paper between the pattern and the base. Saral Transfer paper can be purchased at an art supply store, and leaves a chalk line that is easily brushed away. Using a pen you just need to trace along the lines of your pattern, and the piece of transfer paper between the pattern and fabric will leave chalk lines.

I decided to use a collage method to create the texture in the centre of the sunflower. I tried to use my Brother Scan n' Cut but was not successful this time, despite doing everything I reported when I blogged about it two years ago. I ended up cutting all these collage pieces by hand. It was both enjoyable and not that laborious when done in front of the TV. I find cutting them by hand also gives them a more organic look.

Here's the finished centre.

In these close-up photos you can see the chalk lines from tracing the design to the fabric. Numbers and letters from the pattern need to be included because it is oh so easy to get confused and lost.


The building of the flower was slow. I had to choose fabric for every single piece. All of the sections of the design were traced to fusible web, cut out, ironed to each individually chosen fabric, and then cut out again, and put into place. Scroll back to the top again for the finished view. Now I move on to the quilting and the building of the additional two smaller panels. You can scroll back a couple of blog posts ago to see the plan.

A lot of this work was completed on some very snowy days. It has been that way this winter. Here's the view from my studio out onto the street.



I've been playing with yarn too. I'm in love with seeing how variegated yarns look when knit. These are just a few sample squares.

However, I've taken the plunge and started a pair of socks. I only ripped them out about seven times before I produced my first cuff. Perfect or not (mostly not), here I come. I couldn't have done it without the help of these videos featuring Marly Bird with Red Heart Yarns. Thank you to my friend Dominique for sharing them with me.




Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Good Days and Bad Days

I've been quiet this month, haven't I? I try to keep it positive here on my blog, but the truth is that the last three years have been a struggle at times. Yes, in many ways my health is better because I made a lifestyle change to eat better and exercise more. This resulted in a loss of 30 lbs in 2017 that I continue to maintain. My blood pressure and blood sugar is under control with diet and exercise. This has meant less weight on my joints too (I have arthritis). Yes I LOOK better, but don't necessarily feel better. Three years ago I started feeling "not myself", and it caused my anxiety to soar. I had some disconcerting symptoms: occasional feelings of movement, head feeling strange, brain fog, visual symptoms (like the world looking fuzzy and skewed when I walked outside and in large open spaces like shopping malls and grocery stores), movement and patterning around me made me feel a bit motion sick, too much time on the computer or smart phone made me dizzy. Too much stimulation (crowds and no down time) exhausted me. This only added to my anxiety. I had periods where I would feel normal, but always this feeling would come back.  How do you explain to your doctor that "my head feels strange when I back out of my driveway"? I felt like I was going crazy at times. And it got worse this past year. Travelling became very stressful for me. I lost my confidence in my health and ability to cope. My doctor suspected multiple sclerosis and I went through all that testing last summer. They decided that, although I had neurological symptoms, MS was not the cause. We thought it might be menopause as my anxiety was sky high and the brain fog very disconcerting. We tried hormone replacement therapy. It didn't help.

We now have a diagnosis: left vestibular hypofunction! I never made the connection of my brain fog and visual symptoms to my inner ear!! In October I mentioned my symptoms to my otolaryngologist (who I am followed by twice yearly). In 1983 I was diagnosed with a rare middle ear tumour. A panel of pathologists deemed it malignant, or at least "invasive". I went for a second surgery in 1984 to have a complete removal. I woke up with the room spinning for a couple of days and it took some time to get my balance back. Most people find dizziness and imbalance disconcerting. For me, it takes me back to waking up in that hospital room!! My otolaryngologist ordered a VHIT (video head impulse test). This test determines if there is a loss of function in your inner ear balance function. If there is, your eyes will make compensating movements to help your body figure out where you are in space. The eyes and brain take over a lot more of the balance function when the ear is functioning below par. This explains the brain fog and visual symptoms! The test was positive; I was diagnosed with a "left vestibular hypofunction". Now I wait for a follow-up appointment with my otolaryngologist on February 25. I've been doing a lot of reading and research and it seems that the treatment for this problem is vestibular physiotherapy to help adapt to the hypofunction. The test results also indicate that some of the hypofunction is likely the result of my visual impairment (severe astigmatism with prisms in my glasses). So I may end up seeing a vision specialist as well.

As a result of the diagnosis I cancelled my booth at Quilt Canada for June 2019. Sorry to disappoint, but I am going to focus on my commission totally over the winter without the extra stress and distraction of dyeing hundreds of meters of fabric for my booth. I have some lovely days of teaching booked in Nova Scotia in May. I know this group and I know they will be understanding when I need to have quiet evenings so I will be functional during the workshop days. So I plan to finish my commission, go teach in Nova Scotia and then RELAX. Yes, I have a vestibular disorder, but I have been fortunate that I don't have the spinning/throwing up kind of vertigo (and hope I won't).

Oh I should also mention that before I got the diagnosis, I got a prescription for cbd oil. It helped immensely with the anxiety, but when I got to a dose that helped with that my dizziness got worse. I've stopped using it.

Thank you to those of you who listened when I felt like I was sounding like a hypochondriac after my latest symptoms and tests. Most of you had no idea I'm sure, and many have problems of their own. It's a reminder to be kind as we have no idea what battles others are facing. Many illnesses are invisible. I am also learning that how we respond to and think about our illness can make it worse than it actually is. With meditation I am working on this.

I have also pulled back from teaching at Haliburton School of Art + Design this summer. While I enjoy teaching there, it requires a lot of effort and energy.

Hey, I can't be that bad, can I? I drove 3600 km on a teaching trip in October/November and made it, although I felt "off" a lot of the time. Continuing to teach on a reduced schedule, with lots of rest in the evenings and between bookings, is the best thing for me and my mental health. I expect to be at Quilt Canada in June in a more relaxed capacity so am happy to meet up with friends, and if you need fabric, I'm sure we can arrange it. 

The commission is coming along well and I will be posting with an update soon.

In the mean time, here are photos from our Christmas visit with my 94 year old Dad, who we found sporting a handsome mustache for the first time in his life! That's my sister to the right of me.

This is my husband Pete to the left of me.

In addition to working on the commission, I've been learning to knit. After knitting a few dishcloths just to get a bit of practice, I decided to make a scarf.

A little bit of wonkiness. I know what happened and will avoid it in my next piece.


I decided I would be more likely to wear a cowl than a scarf so stopped the scarf short and joined the edges.

I've had a lot of compliments on this cowl, and it doesn't really matter that it isn't perfect.

I am determined to get to the point where I can knit a pair of socks. This pattern I picked up at our local knitting and spinning store makes sense. It is by Donna Snider of Roots and Rain Yarn (oh my her hand-dyed yarn is amazing).

Practicing doing the cabling on the sock cuff. Nearly ready ...

But got distracted by this gorgeous Japanese yarn (also from Wabi Sabi) and thought I might need a cowl with some red in it to go with my red sweaters.

The weather outside has been frightful, so it is a great time to hibernate. Hope you are safe and warm and well wherever you are!