ELAINE QUEHL, Quilt Artist, Teacher, Dyer, Designer

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Natural World Leads to Houston

This is the cover for the upcoming book "Art Quilt Portfolio: the Natural World". While I was away in Yellowknife, I received an email from Martha Sielman telling me that the book is due to be released very soon. I should receive my complementary copy in March. I see that it will be available from amazon.ca on April 3, 2012. You may recall me mentioning that I will be one of the featured artists in this new book. I also learned from the email I received this past week that Quilts Inc. plans to showcase a special exhibit of the work of artists who appear in the book at the International Quilt Festival in Houston this fall. I was also asked if I could be at Houston to spend a bit of time in the booth to help sell and autograph books. Miraculously, I am not booked to teach in the period October 31 - November 4 when the show takes place, so I'm putting these dates on my calendar in ink and will keep my eyes open for a good price on flights! It can get a bit dicey finding a hotel room near the show if you don't book immediately after the previous show. Fortunately my friend Betty Busby, who is also a featured artist in the book, secured her hotel room right after the last show, and she has invited me to share her double room. It's been a few years since I've been to the International Quilt Festival in Houston.

The quilt on the cover is by Barbara McKie.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Meeting the Aurora: Yellowknife, Part 3

They started softly, and I thought, OK what's the big deal? But it was like an evening of fireworks with the show being kicked up a notch each time they danced. And dance they did! These pictures do not in any way do justice to the show. I am an amateur photographer, and without the help of our guide Joe, I probably would not have selected anywhere near the correct shutter speed.
It was -31 degrees celsius and by the time we finished my camera was frozen to my tripod, my fingers ached and I was chilled to the bone! We had a large group of about 10 people chasing the aurora last night so it was a challenge capturing photos because someone (sometimes me!) was always opening a door to one of our vehicles to get warm, thus turning on the vehicle's lights and overexposing our photos.
You can see more professional aurora shots on the website of Joe's company, North Star Adventures. He runs a variety of tours, and is a fabulous guide and all around great guy! I think the tundra photography tour looks very very interesting!

I likely won't be posting again until I get home on Monday, since I'm teaching this evening and all day Saturday and Sunday. Workshops are being held in the classroom space at one of the local quilt shops (yes Yellowknife has two!), The Quilted Raven. It is a beautiful quilt shop with a ramp entry to wheel your supplies up, classroom and shop all on one level, gorgeous fabric and samples, and lovely decorative touches throughout.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Facinating People and Chasing the Aurora: Yellowknife, Part 2

I woke to a crisp bright day here in Yellowknife, with temperatures at -29 celsius. This is a good thing as it was unseasonably warm here (-10 yesterday), making for snow and overcast skies. This has meant the cancellation of my aurora tour on Tuesday night, and a tour that produced no aurora last night. I am heading out again tonight between 11 pm and 2 am.

During last night's aurora tour we drove three hours in the wilderness outside Yellowknife. It was snowing and cloudy, but our native guide Joe, who is a Dene Indian, thought the snow and clouds were moving in a certain direction and would clear, but they didnt. We had seven people on the tour last night, including an amazing Chinese family from Toronto .. the wife/mother has been to many locations chasing the aurora (Whitehorse, Yukon and Finland). They brought the whole family this time and although they did see aurora on Sunday and Monday nights, the aurora eluded all of us last night due to cloud cover. You may have heard on the news about the solar storms taking place right now, which would normally make for a stellar aurora experience, but first we have to clear the clouds

Even though we saw no aurora last night, I had quite an education ... what a wild and harsh country this is. I saw the ice roads that the truckers use to get up to the mines. I learned there are 2000 lb buffalos in the Northwest Territories. Who knew? When we came to one of the vantage points on the route we would all get out of the truck and look around, and Joe would have to take a flashlight to check there are no packs of wolves waiting to prey on us! I also heard stories of the many people who have died when the ice gave way while driving on it (no I am NOT going on any ice roads or lakes!). Apparently you can hear it cracking sometimes when you drive on it, even though it is several feet thick. The wildness outside the city is mind boggling!

One thing is clear to me, I (and many Canadians) are and have been completely unaware and ignorant of the North. I have a feeling I will be coming back here again!

Since I didn't make it back from aurora watching until 2 a.m., I missed the dog sledding tour I was to go on today. Oh well. This evening I'm teaching the first half of my "Reflections" class.

On Tuesday evening I delivered my "From Inspiration to Art Quilt" lecture at the Yellowknife Quilters Guild meeting. I met many women who had moved here from all over Canada and love it here!
Since I was flying within Canada I was able to bring a small selection of my hand-dyed fabrics, which were well received. This is Donna MacDonald, the guild's Workshop Coordinator, who handled my sales while I talked to members about my quilts. I took about a dozen quilts with me.

Yesterday I walked around old town wearing nothing but sneakers and wool socs on my feet. At -10 the warm boots I brought with me would have been way too hot. I made a visit to the Gallery of the Midnight Sun. It sells hand-made arts and crafts from Northern Canada.
Then I had a late lunch at the famous Bullocks Bistro.
Known for its rustic appearance, irascible owner (Jane Sassaman had described him as the "fish Nazi" when I met her in Nova Scotia in September, as did many on-line reviews), and very fresh seafood. In fact, I found the owner friendly and helpful. I had the whitefish and it was lovely. When you get there the cook will tell you what fish and game are available that day. It is a strange mix of rustic and gourmet with home-made salad dressings in fancy bottles and a cappucino machine.

In the evening I taught my thread dyeing class. The guild here has access to a wonderful studio space used by the local mixed media group. Everyone seemed to enjoy dyeing thread.
I know readers love seeing eye candy, so here are some of my own spools of hand-dyed thread.
I did a demo of couching, bobbin drawing, and hand stitching with the hand-dyed threads. Facinating people here: one of the ladies in my class has flown here from Inuvik for the week.

Stay tuned for "Yellowknife, Part 3". I hope to have some aurora photos!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

How to Beat the Cold: Yellowknife, Part 1

I arrived in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories yesterday afternoon, flying Ottawa-Edmonton, then Edmonton-Yellowknife. I am happy to report that all my luggage arrived with me! Tonight I'm giving a lecture/presentation to the Yellowknife Quilters Guild, who have hired me to teach four workshops as well in the next week.

I am staying in a lovely private apartment in the same building as Donna MacDonald, the guild's Workshop Coordinator. I enjoyed dinner out with Donna and her husband Ray last night. I have a view of the frozen-over Great Slave Lake from my living room window. Here's the living room and the window:

When I woke at 9:30 this morning the sun was just coming up, and below is the sight that greeted me. There is an ice road across the lake in winter that leads to the First Nations community of Dettah. In summer everyone has to drive around the lake.

I am staying only a few blocks from downtown, and today decided to venture there. It is actually quite warm today (by Yellowknife standards) at -18 censius. Have you ever heard car tires whine on the snow like they are driving on styrafoam? That is the sound I heard walking downtown. I noticed immediately that there is no ice or snow on the sidewalks! It seems the sidewalks in Ontario are always icy due to freezing rain or thaws that freeze suddenly. In Yellowknife things freeze over in November and there are no thaws during the winter.

As I walked downtown a number of people greeted me in a friendly manner, some even asked what I was taking pictures of. One woman took a picture of me.
I have quickly learned that the way to master cold temperatures is to dress for them. I made a trip to Marks Work Warehouse before my departure and found a warm hat and mitts (not gloves). And forget about vanity ... hat hair is the norm here!

Yellowknife is popular with Japanese tourists, and they were well-represented on the small plane from Edmonton. They come here to view the aurora borealis (northern lights), as Yellowknife is one of the top locations for northern lights in the world. Word on the street is that there will be a solar storm tonight and the aurora will be in top form. I am heading out on a late night tour after my lecture. Hopefully there won't be too much cloud cover as that might obscure the aurora.

The City of Yellowknife also has several businesses catering to Japanese tourists:

I stopped at the highly-rated (on TripAdvisor.com) Javaroma coffee house. It was teeming with activity, and I had one of the best cappucino's I've had anywhere since Italy last summer.

I decided on lunch at the Saigon Noodle House. A great choice!

Here is a view of the main street of Yellowknife:

There is still evidence of its early gold mining days:

Today Yellowknife is a government town, a popular tourist attraction, and recently experienced a boom due to a new diamond mine north of the City.

Stay tuned for photos of the aurora (I hope) and photos of my teaching week.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Working with Velvets, Silks, Organza in Quilts

A few years ago I started dyeing silk/rayon velvet, silk dupioni, silk organza and cheesecloth, in addition to cotton lawn. I sell these fabrics in my Textile Temptation packs. While I have found using the velvet very easy and straightforward, despite the fact that it is slinky and stretchy, I am finding the organza a little more challenging. Why? Well because I want to make use of the organza's main feature: its transparency!

With the velvet, I simply draw my design on the paper side of a piece of fusible web (normally Steam a Seam Lite), cut it out roughly, iron it to the back of my piece of velvet, then cut the design out on the line. To adhere the velvet to my quilt, I pull the backing paper off, position the velvet on the quilt and hold a hot hot hot steam iron over it, very close, but not touching (you don't want to disturb the pile). This is enough heat to melt the fusible and affix the velvet to the quilt, and of course I typically free-motion quilt very densely.

Here are some samples of quilts I have used velvet on.

In Branching Out, I applied fusible web to the back of velvet and cut out my collage shapes just like I did with the cottons in it. The velvet adds a little more texture to the trunk.

In Forgiveness, (a white magnolia), I used velvet in the centre of the flower. In hindsight I wish I had used one darker in value or with more value variation in it.

Around the centre of this white poppy, I used a dark purple velvet, a mottled velvet in the tentacle-like structures that reach across the middle, a purple silk organza beneath, and a bit of green duprioni silk.
Here is the full view of the white poppy. The purple areas bleeding out of the centre are silk dupioni. My goodness it was a pleasure to stitch through, I could see the relief forming, and I vowed I would stitch on more dupioni in future.

In Seduction 1, I used velvet in the five round shapes surrounding the upper part of the stamen. The velvet provided the lovely texture that was present in the Hibiscus flower that was the inspiration for this piece.
I must share the comment I received about this piece in my guest book at my show at the Shenkman Arts Centre last year. A man wrote that I had a "very good understanding of the male orgasm"! Sometimes what people see in our art says more about them than it does about us! On the other hand, sometimes we don't always understand why we express ourselves the way we do and what it means.

The challenge I have with silk organza is that it is transparent in addition to being slinky. Most fusible webs are a little too opaque for my taste. I did try a small sample of an end-of-season hosta leaf using Misty Fuse, and it was not very successful, mostly because I am not adept at working with a fusible that does not have a backing paper.

Last week I decided to test several brands of fusible web to see which offered the greatest transparency. I took a strip of white silk organza and fused it to another strip of white silk organza in four places using four rectangles of four different fusible products. Here are the results.

1. Misty Fuse
I used white Misty Fuse, and it is definitely the winner in terms of transparency. The problem? I hate working with Misty Fuse because there is no backing paper.

2. Shades Soft Fuse
This product is easy to use because it has a backing paper, and among the fusibles that have a backing paper, it is the most transparent. The down side is that it can only be purchased in the U.S. (as far as I know) and it is quite expensive. A SAQA colleague of mine, Philippa Lack, sent me a small sample. She loves it on silk and I can see why.

3. Trans Web
My third choice in terms of transparency is Trans Web. I've seen it in Canada but not very often, but just discovered that amazon.ca sells it! Given how inexpensive it is (when you can find it), and given that the transparency is only very slightly behind Shades Soft Fuse (above), and that it has a backing paper, I think I would probably go with this product if I decide that I want to fuse my organzas.

4. Steam a Seam Lite
My favorite brand of fusible web, Steam a Seam Lite, is far too opaque for use on sheer organzas.

I am still thinking that to make use of organza's sheer quality, it might be best to not use a fusible. So I tried something else. I used four colours of organza, in order from top to bottom, brown, terra cotta, grass green and golden yellow. I pinned the four layers well, and then on my sewing machine I stitched vertical and diagonal lines through all four layers. After I was finished I cut away the layers I needed to to showcase the colour of organza I wanted visible. Sometimes it involved cutting from the front and sometimes from the back. For example, the green was third from the top and second from the bottom, and when I had cut away the top two layers the green looked too yellow with the layer of yellow beneath it. So I had to also cut the layer of yellow away from behind it. This process will require a lot of planning and very very careful cutting away to reveal the desired layers. Even on this small sample I've already accidentally snipped into the wrong layer twice!!

One more thought I have is to trace my design on freezer paper, iron the freezer paper to the organza to tame it, and then cut out shapes. That still leaves the problem of how to stitch down the organza without it slipping and sliding away. Fusible would tame it, but fusible isn't as sheer as I might like.

Those are my experiments so far. I will keep you posted if I have any other ideas, and would love to hear yours.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

and the winner is ...

M-R Charbonneau is the winner of the custom-dyed meter of fabric. I had the pleasure of delivering the fabric in person to her at the Collage Tree class I taught for the Ottawa Valley Quilters' Guild today. We managed to get a picture of the two of us and the fabric! M-R had requested something in maroon, wine and purples. This is what I came up with.

Hop on over to M-R's blog Quilt Matters to see what she is up to. I would describe her as a young, avid, and modern quilter, with a huge blog following!

Sixteen members of the guild showed up today to learn how to collage a tree. Here is Irene, the guild's wonderful workshop coordinator, who I have had the pleasure of dealing with for the past two years. To her left is Betty.

In preparation for this tree class, and the one coming up in St. John's, Newfoundland in February, I dyed about 40 meters of earthy bark-like and sky fabrics this past week. The warm colours you see are my experiments for M-R's fabric and some reds and pinks to fill out that depleted range of colours in my store of hand-dyed fabrics. They are always popular for my In Full Bloom class, and I will be teaching one of those in Newfoundland too. Of course I can't take my full store when I fly but I do take a small selection.

Winter has definitely arrived in Ottawa, with a big dump of snow this past week. Then the temperatures started plummeting. This morning we were at -19 celsius (-2.2 fahrenheit). Tonight, as I write this blog post, we are at -26 celscius (-15 fahrenheit). I am actually glad of this because I am hoping to accustom myself to cold weather for my trip to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, in about a week. I see from weather reports that it is actually -42 celsius (-43.6 fahrenheit) there tonight. YIKES! Yellowknife is approximately 500 km (or 300 miles) south of the Arctic Circle, and is one of the best places in the world to see the aurora borealis (northern lights). I'll be there for a week, teaching and lecturing weekday evenings and all day Saturday and Sunday, so I will have some time to see the sights. It will mean braving the cold!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A New Year

I'm a tad late in making this post but my excuse is that I came down with a cold on New Year's Day. Hope you all had a wonderful holiday! At our house, we (including Ms. Kissabelle above) enjoyed lobster on New Year's Eve.

For many people a list of New Year's resolutions accompanies the start of a new year. Not for me. I gave up making resolutions many years ago. However, I keep a list of goals throughout the year. For some time now I have had a condensed list written on a yellow sticky note, attached to my computer. On it are three words:
1. Studio (reminding me to spend some time in my studio each day that I am home.
2. Exercise (reminding me to move every day). This is a tough one for me to stick to!
3. Cook. I've been doing very well on this one for at least a month now. The idea is to get back in the habit of cooking, and as a result I will eat better. The challenge will come when I start travelling again later this month.

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm celebrating three occasions this month: 1) one year of blogging, 2) four years of being a full-time quilt artist and teacher, and 3) nine years since I began teaching and selling hand-dyed fabrics. So to honour the occasion I have a blog give-away. The first person to post a comment in response to this post will receive a meter of hand-dyed fabrics in your choice of colour/s. In other words, you tell me what you want and I will custom-dye it for you this week. I'll be in my basement dungeon dyeing a fair bit this week.

If there is any particular topic you would like to see me post about, any questions you might have, please ask. I want this blog to be useful and educational.

All best wishes for 2012!!