ELAINE QUEHL, Quilt Artist, Teacher, Dyer, Designer

Friday, August 24, 2012

Join me in Italy ... or Ottawa

Peony, Special Commission, 2008 by Elaine Quehl

Join me in Italy in 2013 at the Abruzzo School of Creative Art.  My class, "Fabulous Flowers and Foliage" runs June 26 to July 2.  Save 30% if you register by the end of August 2012.  Click on the name of my class above to register.  Did you know that if you organize a group registration of six people you can earn a free class

Queue, 2009 by Elaine Quehl
As of a few days ago there is still one space left in my Uncommon & Unforgettable Threads class at Dragonfly Fabrics here in Ottawa.  The class runs once a month from September 2012 through to January 2013 (five Saturdays).  This class is similar to the Threads class I gave in a one-week format at the Haliburton School of the Arts last summer.  Here's the class description:
"Uncommon” = above the ordinary, exceptional, remarkable.
"Unforgettable" = memorable and not to be forgotten.
Discover many wonderful ways you can use both commercial and hand-dyed threads in your quilts. Lighter weight threads can be used through the needle, heavier ones for bobbin work, couching, and even some textured hand-stitching. Dye some luscious threads to increase your options and add to your stash. Then try some thread sketching, a little thread painting, some machine quilting, and a little couching and bobbin work. Learn when to use a stabilizer and/or a hoop, how to master any type of thread, what needles to use, and how to get your sewing machine to cooperate. Gain new skills that will make your quilts uncommon and unforgettable. Most processes will require a reliable sewing machine with the ability to drop or cover the feed dogs.
Please visit my other posts on "Threads" to learn more about the class and see student work.
Thread Sketch of Medieval Italian door, Elaine Quehl 2011

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Van Gogh: Up Close

What gorgeous weather we've been having here in Ottawa the past couple of weeks.  Check out the blue skies in the photos below!  So it was an absolute pleasure to head to the National Gallery of Canada with a friend yesterday to see the Van Gogh: Up Close exhibit, which runs until September 3.  You can enjoy beautiful weather even while inside this gallery, given the large number of windows and beautiful vistas from within.  It is always fun to walk past "Maman" the sculpture by Louise Bourgeois.  The National Gallery acquired this sculpture in 2005 at a cost of 3.2 million dollars.  It caused a lot of controversy at the time because it ate up 1/3 of the Gallery's budget for an entire year.

If you plan to see the Van Gogh exhibit, do get there early in the day as all the parking in the garage was taken when I got there at 11:30 a.m.  It did give me a reason to park in the Byward Market and enjoy a nice walk on a beautiful day.  You might also want to see if you can purchase tickets on-line ahead of time because the line-up yesterday was pretty sizable!  Inside, the exhibit itself was also crowded with people.  Waiting to see each painting gave my friend and I a chance to talk.
The paintings themselves seemed paler and duller than what I have seen on-line and in books.  I have to wonder if a lot of the works published on the web and in print have been enhanced.  Van Gogh's palette seemed to me quite drab, perhaps because of the limited pigments available in his time.  Even a poppy field seemed somehow drab, and yellow dandelions were outlined with black paint (in the hopes of making them stand out against yellow-green foliage?). 
It was great to see the show, but alas most of my favorite paintings were missing.  Such as these:
Wheat Field With Rising Sun may be my absolute favorite Van Gogh painting.  I have been thinking about how gorgeous that wheatfield would look recreated with long stitches of hand-dyed thread.  Just look at the texture in it! 
Of course I do also love Van Gogh's famous Starry Starry Night Painting, however, here is another less famous one that really attracts me!  This one is called Starry Night over the Rhone.
This one is called Wheat Fields Under Threatening Skies.  I seem to have a thing for wheat fields?  The colours in this one seem so dramatic, but I wonder if they really are that dramatic in real life? 
Now wouldn't Sower With Setting Sun look great in hand-dyed stitches as well?  If you research this painting on the web, you will find pictures where the field is blue as well as pictures where it is purple, like in the photo below. 
While I don't care at all for his sunflowers in vases, I think Van Gogh's close-up studies of sunflowers are just masterful! 
After seeing the show, we enjoyed lunch at the Gallery's cafeteria.  The outdoor tables provide a stunning view of Parliament Hill 
as well as the Supreme Court of Canada and the Ottawa River.
I've spent a good amount of time in the studio this week, and my new piece is coming along.  Still haven't started ironing the 120 meters of fabric I dyed.  Speaking of dyeing, Denise sent a photo of her results from last week's dyeing class at Dragonfly Fabrics.  She amazed herself at the results of both exercises, and plans to use many of the fabrics in the poppy quilt she started in a class with me a few months ago.
Hoping you are enjoying blue skies in your part of the world!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Dye Another Day

I've always wanted to create a dyeing class called "Dye Another Day", a spoof on the James Bond Movie, "Die Another Day".  In my mind I thought of this class as a continuation of my introductory low-water immersion dyeing class, but I have decided to use this name for any custom-designed dyeing class I am asked to deliver.  It just so happens I now have the chance to deliver my first "Dye Another Day" class.  My husband and I are heading up to the Northwest Territories in September (you may recall that I taught in Yellowknife in January and fell in love with the North).  We found a deal on flights and booked for September, which is considered peak aurora month. The Yellowknife Quilters Guild is once again offering two days of my workshops.  They've asked me to put together a dyeing class that shows how I dye my multi-coloured fabrics, as well as how I dye some of the specialty fabrics in my Textile Temptation Packs.

"Dye Another Day" also describes my days during this past week.  I spent a day with a very keen class of new dyers on Wednesday while teaching at Dragonfly Fabrics.  Also, since I will be selling my hand-dyed fabrics at the QuiltCo Quilt Show September 29 and 30 here in Ottawa, and given that I have only a few days after I get back from Yellowknife to get ready, I've had my head in the dyepots since last Saturday.  Then after that, I dyed another day, and another day. and another day, and today I am up to 119 meters, with about 20 to go.  Once my order of velvet comes in (probably this coming week) I have several colours of Textile Temptation Packs to replenish as well.  So things could well turn into "Dye Another Week".

Here are the results so far, still to be ironed, cut and (in some cases) bundled.  Greens are still in the dyepots.

I also have something exciting cooking up in the studio, inspired by the section below that I cropped out of a larger photo.  I like the way the curve of the leaves pulls the eye from upper left down through the middle and across to the right and brings it around again to the upper gold leaf.  I also like the triangle that the three leaves are arranged in.
I would really like to see the piece finished by the end of this month, but I need to be realistic given the remaining dyeing, a lot of ironing cutting and bundling.  In between now and the end of the month there will be a house guest and a friend in town.  This new piece will also be larger than any of my existing end of season hosta quilts, probably about 42" wide by 20" high.  The good news is that I don't need to dye another day for this one as I still have a wonderful stash of end-of-season hosta fabric I dyed at the end of 2010, and which you can see at this blog post.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Guest Post with Anna Hergert: The Zen of Straight Sewing vs.Thinking Like Leonardo

Today, for something new and different, we have a guest artist. I am pleased to introduce you to Anna Hergert, a fellow Canadian textile artist and teacher.  We keep hearing about how we should get ourselves into the studio regularly, but Anna's thought-provoking article, The Zen of Straight Sewing vs. Thinking Like Leonardo, makes a convincing argument about why sometimes a break from the studio might be just what we need to gain perspective.  I hope you enjoy this article and leave comments.  Anna will be checking in and responding to your comments.

Anna is London City & Guilds educated with Diplomas in Art, Design, Contemporary Embroidery as well as Patchwork and Quilting. Her lifelong pursuit of the arts makes her a passionate and inspiring teacher. Anna is a teacher/lecturer with over 20 years of experience in the fibre arts field. Her innovative pieces have been exhibited nationally and internationally in solo shows and juried traveling group exhibitions.

Anna makes her home in SW Saskatchewan, north of Moose Jaw on scenic Buffalo Pound Lake with her husband Colin. She creates fiber art in her dream studio overlooking breathtaking scenery that serves as constant source of inspiration.
Polar Bear's Embrace, 2012 by Anna Hergert

Anna will be in Ontario for a few weeks as of later this month, and will be delivering a workshop and lecture for the Loose Threads group (this workshop is now full).  She will also be teaching a Kantha Embroidery workshop at Dragonfly Fabrics in Ottawa on September 15.  On this trip she will also be lecturing at the Ottawa Valley Quilters Guild on September 10 and the Common Thread Quilt Guild on September 11.

The Zen of Straight Sewing vs. Thinking Like Leonardo

There comes a time in every artist’s life when time away from the studio is the best way to gain perspective. As a teacher, I am away regularly and often for an extended period of time. I recently spent a block of time in the region of the Boreal Forest of east central Saskatchewan. I can hear the questions now: “Why would she go there and what might she find in that region?”

The short answer is: I took a photography workshop, taught a dyeing and art quilt design course and last but not least I spent a few days unwinding with friends creating charity quilts.

My first week was very intense with long hours spent “chasing and capturing the sweet light”. We rose at 4 a. m. to find the perfect sunrise, and finished at 9:30 p. m. after trying to capture the perfect sunset. The two hours of rest between breakfast around 8 a. m. and official class room start, to shed light on Photoshop CS6, was not enough to catch up on lost sleep. I am not a daytime napper and by the end of the week I was quite tired.

I had 24 hours to “recover” and shift gears which included some tense moments when a tornado touched down, about 1 km away across the lake, around the dinner hour on Saturday.

I put on my teaching hat during the early afternoon Sunday while setting up my studio space with sewing stations and a separate area for dyeing. It felt good to just push tables and chairs around and envision the space for a week of optimal learning and teaching. A motivated group of seven students arrived by mid afternoon to “claim” their space. Class started after dinner and continued till the following Saturday.

Best laid plans to stay creative myself during these two weeks only reached as far as keeping my blog updated with images and short reports. A handwork project I had brought along just in case some quiet time would present itself, never came out of the travel case. Pretty soon I became concerned that I was not producing something tangible and I began to question my decision to spend even more time away from home and my studio...

Once my two weeks at Kenderdine Campus at Emma Lake came to an end I was picked up by  three friends to participate in an annual “quilt till you wilt” gathering at Candle Lake. When I received the invitation it was made clear that there were no expectations - I was free to sleep, eat, read a good book, catch up on some correspondence, just walk the wooded trails or sit on the beach. I did all that... AND pieced three twin sized cuddle quilt tops in four days. I had brought along my very basic travel machine and for the first time put it through its paces.

Straight sewing was the motto and while I rarely piece traditional quilts due to the monotony I surprised myself this time. I found I did not have to think too hard. The 2 1/2” precut strips from everyone’s stash were combined at random (at first!). Eventually I selected colours and textures to follow a theme, be it floral or a quilt for a young boy. I sewed and sewed for hours on end and soon began to realize that this repetitive activity became my meditation. I felt more and more rejuvenated, left the exhaustion behind and once the second quilt top was pieced I set myself the goal of trying my hand at # 3.

The constant straight sewing and joining long strips became my meditation. This Zen activity required little effort, allowed me to take regular breaks to capture the sunset and even a couple sunrise events while at the same time I felt productive and it prepared me for the routine I had waiting at home.

I find it difficult to set time aside for meditation, inner reflection and relaxation. There is always another deadline to meet, someone asking for advice or new work to be explored. In 1999, while perusing the art section at the local book store, a specific title caught my eye: “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci”.  It proved difficult to turn my attention to anything else afterward. The book was well worth the investment and to this day I find myself regularly drawn to part two where the author explores the Seven Da Vincian Principles of Curiosit√†, Demonstrazione, Sensazione, Sfumato, Arte/Scienza, Corporalita and Connessione.

Curiozità: We are born with natural curiosity. Curiozità builds on this natural impulse. It forms the basis of our desire to learn more! This curiosity is far from being book based - it is a natural inquisitiveness about how the world works. As adults we often lose this curiosity, equating it with child-like behavior. Get back in touch with your sense of adventure: explore your environment, take a picture of a tree, zoom in and examine the branches, the trunk, the bark, each leaf and the fruit it might produce. Life is continuous learning - be curious!

Demonstrazione: A great teacher leads by example. By introducing topics, study subjects and facilitating questions that examine and lead to independent decisions a teacher provides a safe environment for open discussion. Always challenge what you see, hear and feel. Ask yourself: Are your opinions and beliefs your own? Through reflection and constant evaluation you will demonstrate independence and gain confidence.

Sensazione:How do you experience life? Are you able to engage your senses fully? Sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell constitute the keys to opening the doors of experiencing life! In photography, textile art, painting, music and even the culinary arts it is often assumed that the artist has captured the landscape, a harvest of fruit and vegetables in cooking, the light and sounds and so on. Let us not forget: Emotion is a vital ingredient of creativity! Without emotion your work has no “soul quality”. This emotional response is only possible when all senses are engaged to their fullest.

Sfumato: This literally translates into “Going up in smoke”and reminds us how important it is to keep our minds open in the face of uncertainty. It is the most powerful key in unleashing your creative potential!

Arte/Scienza: Throughout his life Leonardo was seeking to balance his thinking between science and art, logic and imagination. Essentially he advocated whole brain thinking. This brings to mind the topic of left brain vs. right brain thinking - I am sure you are familiar with this theory first explored by Nobel prize winner Robert Sperry. As artists we are often described as right brain dominant whereas a computer programmer or mathematics professor is pigeonholed into the compartment of left brain thinker. Today’s school systems pay lip service to the idea of balancing left and right brain activities, they fall short of reaching this goal in most instances. As a whole brain thinker a person considers all aspects of the subject at hand. Mind mapping (a method to generate and organize ideas) was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s habit of note taking. It can be used for personal goal setting, trip planning, problem solving, and any pursuit that comes to mind. Employing mind mapping will lead to becoming a more balanced thinker. Interested? Check out this website for more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_map

Corporalita: This point is much on our minds in today’s society. Corporalita refers to the cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness and poise. Leonardo was much concerned with physical beauty and as a strict vegetarian spent time analyzing what to eat to ensure good health and longevity. He was 67 when he passed away on May 2nd, 1519 - a ripe age for Renaissance conditions.

Connessione: The recognition of and appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena brings us to the seventh principle. I am continually fascinated by the spiral line. Imagine picking up a small stone and tossing it into a puddle or still lake. Observe the ever-expanding circles, the ripples they create and how these spread outward: This is a great metaphor for connessione. Leonardo is referred to as a systems thinker. This quote was taken from one of his notebooks “The earth is moved from its position by the weight of a tiny bird resting upon it.” This makes a great topic to meditate upon!

How did I move from “sewing straight in a blissful Zen space” to “Thinking like Leonardo da Vinci”? Giving in to repetition provided me with the energy I need to recover from expanding too much of it during learning and sharing. This quiet time of reflection while the needle formed one stitch at a time across pieced strips that eventually formed a quilt top helped me to reflect and gain more insight into Leonardo’s seven principles:

1.  I became curious about the way the strips interrelated in texture and colour and how they were held together with the simple straight stitch. 

2.  Through constant observation, I learned that I can manipulate the placement and colour changes to create a more interesting and pleasing composition.

3.  I gave in to the natural surroundings and made a point of exploring reflections in the water, plant and insect life along the shore and the most amazing colour play in the sky.

4.  I let go of preconceived ideas and outside (self-imposed) pressures to embrace the experience. I enjoyed living in the moment!

5.  I took some time to put on paper what my priorities were going to be over the next month. This helped me in gaining perspective and allowing me to create a block of time to relax and enjoy the company, the location and the people around me.

6.  The principle of corporalita fell a bit short... When you put together 10 quilters, boundless ideas for food plans and a focus on sitting and sewing - exercise fell a bit short during the four days. The meals were gourmet and kept us all sustained for long nights of sewing! My exercise plan was implemented immediately after I returned home.

7.  The realization that everything in my life is interconnected with everyone else was ever present during my time away from the studio. Despite the fact that I did not create tangible art, I feel I have gained new knowledge and understanding, not to mention an intensified friendship with like minded people.

Thank you for letting me share!


Reference: Michael J. Gelb, How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci - Seven Steps to Genius Every Day; Delacorte Press, 1998.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Haliburton School of the Arts, Week 2

I had a great time last week with 8 students in my Surface Design class at the Haliburton School of the Arts.  We spent five days playing with Prismacolor Artist Pencils, Caran d'Ache Neocolor 2 Watersoluble Wax Pastels, Derwent Inktense Pencils, Shiva Paintstiks, Tsukineko Inks, and Foils.  It was a very hands-on class in that I spent time talking about the properties of each product, ways one might use it, how to fix it, and then did a few demos.  Students had the rest of the day to work. 

Prismacolor Artist Pencils

Starting with a pale yellow fabric, Korleen shaded this tulip using Prismacolor Artist Pencils.  I brought a selection of my reference photos for students to work with.

Caran d'Ache Neocolor 2 Water Soluble Wax Pastels

Sharon painted these oak leaves using wax pastels.  The cool thing about these crayons is that when you brush on water you get a sort of watercolour effect.

If you only use a little bit of water on your brush, you blend your colours smoothly, as Cathy did with this orchid.

Karen's succulent (inspired by a photo I took in a botanical garden) makes great use of colour, and she then stitched around each pod.

Kathleen stitched this design on a quilt sandwich and then coloured in with wax pastels, which she brushed with a small amount of water to blend.  It is based on one of my Tuscan sunflower photos.

Inktense Pencils

Lately I've been playing a bit with Inktense Pencils and decided to add them to this course.  What I find particularly fun is stitching a free-hand design on a white quilt sandwich using black thread, to mimic the look of a pencil sketch, and then painting in the colour.  When water is brushed on, the Inktense pencil work takes on a more intense and transparent look.  The colour also seeps outside the stitched lines.  Great for someone who is too rigid to colour outside the lines.  In the sample below I've stitched the design and am just starting to add colour.

Below I've added my first layer of colour and used a wet brush.

A second go at the colour, and more wet brush, and I think it is almost finished.

Here's another rough thread sketch I did mimicing pencil lines.  I think there might be some issues with the fence showing through the trees, but I'm pretty sure I can fix that.  I did this one on silk dupioni and am just starting to add colour.

This one is just a thread doodle that I started to colour in.

Here is Nancy's thread doodle almost filled in with Inktense Pencils.

Helen stitched the industrial scene below with black thread, then added colour with Inktense pencils:

Shiva Paintstiks

We did some stencilling and basic landscape work with Shiva Paintstiks.  Helen designed this cactus stencil.

Sharon created this coneflower stencil.

Tsukineko Inks

At the moment I am in love with Tsukineko inks and the potential for controlling colour depth with the use of aloe vera gel.  The gel also acts as a smooth medium to spread the ink.  I demonstrated on this peony design, based on one of my photos, and managed to finish it in class.  After painting the peony on white cloth, I decided to fuse it to a more dramatic hand-dyed fabric.

I shared my peony design with students so they could learn how to use Tsukineko inks to control value.  This is Korleen's peony.

It is hard to remember to take photos of everything.  I know that Ila finished this piece, but my photo was taken after noticing what a great start she had and I forgot to take a photo of the finished piece.

Karen created this lake reflection design using the Tsukeniko Inkss

Cathy's marsh scene combines several methods, including hints of foil.


Students seemed most excited about the possibilities of using more than one foil colour in their designs.  Korleen created this piece, which absolutely popped when she outline quilted it.

Kathleen's foiled leaf combines copper and red foil.

Ila combined several colours of foil on her leaf.

I've used and taught foils successfully for several years now, but in 2012 I have been experiencing some problems when using the foiling adhesive method.  Students were having problems with silver and royal blue.  Karen decided to run a test of all colours using both my newest adheisve as well as my oldest adhesive.  We didn't come to any conclusions except that the silver is adhering in a blotchy fashion.  I've reported it to the company I purchase it from and they have promised to run tests.  I'll be running some tests of my own before I teach with foil again..

It's been a great summer so far (OK hot maybe) and I really enjoyed my time at Haliburton, both taking a class and teaching two.  I'll be back teaching next year for three weeks: two weeks during the summer and one in October.  When everything is confirmed I will provide more information.  I get to stay home for a few weeks now and hope to spend some of it in the studio.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

"The Natural World" is in Quilting Arts

I returned from Haliburton last night and will be blogging shortly about my second week of teaching.  I suddenly realized yesterday that this is a long weekend, thanks to an email in which my sister mentioned it!!  I remember how I used to live for long weekends when I had a 9-5 job, but now that I do a job that I love, long weekends don't have the same meaning anymore.  I am very fortunate to be able to organize my own time the way I want, around my own commitments and deadlines.  While I was away, I learned from friends that there is a special feature article on pages 34-40 of the August/September issue of Quilting Arts about the "Art Quilt Portfolio: The Natural World" book.  You may recall that I am one of 19 featured artists in this book.  My piece, "Unfurling" appears in the Quilting Arts article.  "Unfurling" is now in the collection of Norma Schlager, who purchased it in the 2009 SAQA Auction.  I haven't seen the article yet myself, but hope to pick up a copy of the magazine soon.

Unfurling, 2009 by Elaine Quehl