ELAINE QUEHL, Quilt Artist, Teacher, Dyer, Designer

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Finding Inspiration in a Quiet Vacation

I'm happy to report that I've found a quiet and inspiring pause in my schedule. It began with a 9-day vacation to Grand Manan, Island, New Brunswick, Canada. The destination was chosen because I knew it would be peaceful and provide reflective time and inspiration.

We lucked out on weather! A vacation in the Maritimes is often (at least for us) accompanied by rain. We had beautiful sunny days for the first several days, as evidenced by these fluffy white clouds. Even though it was cloudy a lot in the latter days, we seldom found it raining more than a brief shower.

Seafood is always a welcome part of travelling in the Maritime provinces. We stopped off for lobster rolls, haddock and whole clams just outside St. Andrews. That was the first of many, many lobster rolls!

A walk to the pier in St. Andrews.

A look back at the picturesque town.

We dressed warmly for the ferry ride to Grand Manan Island. It wasn't as cold as we expected. Here you can get a glimpse of the shore of Grand Manan as the ferry approaches.

Such a beautiful day spent out on the deck of the ferry. Here is the pattern we left in our wake.

Oh, yes, and the other reason I chose this destination was that I fell in love with the quirky cabins and yurts at Castalia Marsh Retreat. This was ours. We had a beautiful view out over the marsh, and a lovely outdoor seating area to enjoy it.

The front of our cabin:

I have been drawn to the sight of fishing boats and reflections on water for a while now. Grand Manan provided lots of inspiration to photograph them. I hope to create some quilts inspired by these photos, but am seriously wondering what I can do that is different from what others have done? We shall see.

Not sure what these purple flowers are that were blooming all over the place, but an abandoned boat amidst them captured my attention.

As if Grand Manan wasn't quiet enough, we decided to ferry to a smaller island called White Head Island. Not one afternoon, but two! There I did some sketching, we collected treasures (shells, rocks, etc) from the beach, and mostly found we had the beaches there all to ourselves.

A few nights into the vacation we woke to the sound of rain on the roof. Our first thought was, "oh no, another rainy vacation". But no, the next morning we awoke to magic outside our door. I shot many, many photos of raindrops on leaves. It just so happens that this is another subject I've been developing an interest in. I certainly collected a lot of inspiration.

The spiders spun magical webs during the wet night, and they were coated with fine raindrops. I'm feeling inspired to make a quilt based on the spider web.

When it was cloudy, many days I found the sky an interesting turquoise, blue and grey. Reminds me of a hand-dyed fabric I dye regularly in those colours.

A week of peace and quiet amidst nature and beauty is just what I needed. Now that I'm not planning the next three teaching trips (the next one isn't until end of September) I can think and dream about work I want to make. But in the meantime, I have a bit more vacation coming up, in which I shall think and dream and sketch some more. I am finally moving past the big sketching block I developed in the last couple of years. I'm willing to take the risk now. Enjoying quick pen and ink studies with a bit of watercolour. Perhaps I'll share them in a future post.

I hope you are enjoying some peace and quiet in your life wherever you are.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Choosing Threads for Machine Quilting

Recently I received the following email from a student named "Judy". Her question pertains to how I choose thread colours for my machine quilting. This is a question I'm often asked when I am out teaching and lecturing, so I thought I would summarize my thoughts here on my blog.

"Your stitching is stunning, and I really admire the effect it adds to your pieces.  I have been on the Superior Thread website looking at some of their trilobal thread, with a plan to buy some.  I wonder if you have any suggestions of some colors that you find adapt well to a variety of projects.  Also I wonder if you have any tips on how you choose the colour thread you use for your free motion stitching.  For example, on your blue/green ‘Reflections’ quilt, it appears you have used a variegated thread that has yellows and oranges in – which would not have crossed my mind.  I also find that sometimes my thread choice doesn’t add the interest that I am seeking, and perhaps I’m not going for a good contrast in my thread choice.  I’d really appreciate any suggestions and advice you might have."

First of all, thank you Judy.  I have a theory about free motion machine quilting. If you put down only one line of stitching, you will see all the imperfections in that line, but if you put down several rows of stitching, all the lines will detract from each other and hide a multitude of imperfections. Having said that, I am also not too bothered by imperfections. I think it makes the work more interesting and looks like it was made by a human hand (which is what we want after all) than by a precision machine.

When I was a new machine quilter I tended to use thread colours that blended with my work to hide imperfections. When I became more skilled and confident, I started using threads that really show up on my work. Perhaps you have now reached a level where you feel more confident to use these threads too. Of course it depends on what I am doing. Threads that blend make your quilting about texture, but threads that contrast or otherwise show up on your fabric, make your quilting more about the thread.

Over the years I have collected a great deal of thread! When I made bed quilts I used cotton threads for quilting, however these days I would not be adverse to using the newer trilobal polyester threads (more on that below). When I began to make art quilts, I fell in love with rayon thread for its beautiful sheen, vibrant colour and the suppleness of the stitch it made. I always found the stitch with rayon thread far more attractive than the one made with cotton thread. Over the years I started gravitating to trilobal polyester threads because they have the same beautiful sheen, vibrant colour, and suppleness of stitch, however, they are easier to work with than rayon.

I use a lot of Superior Threads, but also some solid colours of polyester threads by Fil Tec Glide and Madeira. However, what really draws me to Superior is their education program. I think they make it likely that you will be successful using their thread by telling you right on the spool what needle and tension to use. On top of that, no matter what thread I am using in my needle, I always use Superior Bottom Line in my bobbin. It is a lighter weight polyester so it doesn't put a huge amount of thread on the back of your quilt, and the bobbins can hold more thread and thus need to be filled less often.

But back to your question about how I choose thread colours for my quilts. I have an enormous thread stash that I've collected over the last 20 years. At the present time, I seldom purchase thread because I have a good selection of all colours of the rainbow, as well as a variety of values (darks, mediums and lights) within each colour. I view thread and fabric almost like a paint palette. Eventually you will require all colours. However, I do have a larger collection of greens than any other colour, due to my body of work on hosta leaves.

Here are the two chests that I store the bulk of my thread in, organized by colour. One drawer for greens, one for blues and teals/turquoise, one for reds/pinks/purples, one for yellow and orange, and one for neutrals (browns, greys and blacks). It's a lot of thread. I know I've read scary stories about thread going bad, but I haven't had it happen to me yet.

In addition, there is a small drawer in a unit to the right of my sewing machine where I store the threads I've pulled for current projects. Since I haven't had time to make any projects lately, what you find here are a lot of colours I used in my end-of-season hosta quilts, 

I also found a bag of pinks, from lightest to darkest, that I pulled to quilt my peony quilt.

All this thread may look daunting to someone who isn't a "collector" like I am. I would start by purchasing what you think you will need for your next several projects. You may find you use the same colours a lot in your work (I know that I do) and can use those threads again and again.

The beauty of Superior's Bottom Line thread is that it comes in a full spectrum of colours so you can match your bobbin thread to the back of your quilt. These are only a few in my collection.

 For colours that I use often, I've purchased the large cones.

I've gone through images of many of my quilts and separated my machine quilting into three categories in terms of thread choices: 1) contrasting threads (often variegated); 2) variegated blending threads; and 3) solid colour threads that match each section of the quilt. I've also loaded fairly large images so if you click on them you should be able to see the stitching better. 


This first piece contains many bright colours of fabric and beads, as well as a selection of black and white fabrics. I couldn't choose just one colour of thread to quilt with so I used a rainbow variegated colour of thick thread that I hand-dyed. The design is kind of funky, and the rainbow thread just adds to that feeling. Of course you could also quilt something like this with a mid value grey to pull everything together but I prefer colour. 

This is the quilt that Judy specifically asked about, mentioning that I had used a thread that is orange as well as blue and green. The quilt has an analagous colour scheme (colours that are beside each other on the colour wheel) that runs from a golden yellow (very close to orange) through yellow, yellow-green, green, blue-green and blue.

For this quilt I chose Superior Rainbows thread colour #836 because it contains many of the same colours in the quilt. What Judy describes as "orange", I see more as a "golden yellow", and it blends well with the yellow sections of the quilt.

On this quilt, a large improv radial design called "Solstice", I repeated the sun theme of Solstice by quilting sun-like shapes using a spiral and flowing rays. The centre of the quilt utilizes a lot of bright warm-coloured fabrics to suggest a burst of light in a dark sky. I wanted to pull that design right out into the dark areas of sky, and give it more movement. 

To achieve this objective, I chose Superior Rainbows 843, which is a combination of warm colours.

I used this very same thread to quilt a leaf design into the background of my lily quilt. The lily just seemed to have a lot of blank space around it that needed some interest. The thread contained all of the colours within the lily.

On this little challenge piece, I pulled the chartreuse green right across the black border by using a chartreuse thread there. Makes the border a bit less stark I think. This chartreuse thread may have a bit of variegation running through it but it is very slight.


In this sample for my Hosta Leaves 101 class, I chose a thread that blends well with the yellow-green, purple, and blue in the background fabric.

For this I used Superior Rainbows #835.

I  often use lower contrast variegated threads for pulling a variety of values of a colour together. In this case, at the time I could not find a thread in the colour I wanted, so I carefully hand-dyed rayon thread in two values of variegated greens, a lighter one and a darker one and used each where it was most appropriate on the quilt (the darker one in the darker areas and the lighter one in the lighter areas).

Here I used a variegated purple (Superior Rainbows 839) with only slight variation in the background of my poppy quilt to give it more interest and texture. 


There is a large group of quilts where I chose a variety of values of threads and changed colours often during quilting. In this photo I can see at least four values of green thread.

I do this most often when I'm going after a more realistic look and don't want a contrasting thread to draw too much attention to any one area. I want everything to flow naturally and just have texture. Below is another example where I've used three or four values of green thread: a very light one on the edges and for the veins of the unfurling leaf, a more medium in the main areas, a darker medium in the area below the curl, and the darkest one in the shadowy centre of the curl.

I also changed threads quite a big when I quilted this sample of my "Sunkissed Poppy" pattern. There are at least three shades of red, from almost a peach all the way up to a deep scarlet, a plum colour used in the areas closest the centre, deep purple in the centre, and yellow used in some of the yellow areas. Over on the right I used a medium scarlet across the large yellow area to try to pull that area together to look like the one petal that it is, but in hindsight I wish I had used the lighter peachy scarlet for that section. I think the thread shows a bit too much here.

For information, Superior no longer makes Rainbows (the variegated threads mentioned above), but they have a similar product called Fantastico.

Their thread formerly called "Highlights", which are the solid colours of their trilobal polyester thread, are now called Magnifico.

One place where I do use the same thread again and again is for my tree collage quilts. I find that Rainbows colours 855 and 856 give me everything I need. One is darker than the other, and the lighter one (on right) is actually a bit lighter than it appears in this photo. 

They work perfectly for tree trunks, and help pull all the collaged elements together.

Finally, I think I would have to add that one needs to take some risks to find out what you like and what works. I probably don't treat any of my works as so precious that I won't just jump in and try something that may or may not work.

 Here's hoping that you find this information useful. Please don't hesitate to ask if you'd like clarification on anything that is unclear.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Week Two, Haliburton School of Art + Design

It's a long weekend here in Ontario, and I've been doing laundry and putting away stuff for the past couple of days. I returned home Friday night after two weeks of teaching in Haliburton at the Haliburton School of Art + Design.

This post is about my second week, in which I had ten brave and eager students join me for a week of learning to liberate themselves from precision quilt making. I showed them five different ways to create free-form quilts. Thankfully someone suggested a photo of the class because last week I completely forgot to take a photo of the group in my dyeing class. From left to right are Shirley, Alison, Judy, Charlotte, Anne, me, Terry, Mary Anne, Kim, Cheryl, and Katharine.

This is just a small sampling of the photos I took. Here, Alison holds up her sample of "flip n' sew curves".

Mary Anne finished all the blocks for her "Reflections" piece. This method is addictive!

Cheryl decided to leave half of her blocks plain and piece only one side.

Anne's "liberated strip piecing" project.

Shirley's "liberated strip piecing" project in the process of being pieced.


Mary Anne's liberated radial design.

Katharine's half-finished liberated radial design.

During my week I had the pleasure of photographing a few amazing sights. This little fox (I think it is a fox) was sitting on the middle of the road having a good scratch when I drove out of the college one day. He retreated to the edge of the woods. This was captured with my cell phone camera, as are most of the photos I share on my blog these days.

So many inspiring classes were taking place around me, and that is one of the aspects of teaching in this venue that I enjoy. Almost across the hall Jay Dampf was teaching his annual "Animals in Art" class, and this little gem by Marian Kujtan was sitting on an easel just outside the classroom. She gave me permission to share her red fox pouncing in the snow. 

In the last year I got in the habit of taking photos with my cell phone while on the road. My DSLR Canon is just too heavy and takes so much space when I'm flying. However, after getting blurry photos of deer the previous week, I hauled out my Canon with mid zoom lens (which I did take with me), and got some very clear photos of the deer near my cottage. 

After witnessing this sight from a distance each day as I drove from cottage to college, I finally figured out where to park to capture it, and was once again thankful to have my zoom lens with me.

There is something about red, isn't there? And while I know they have been done before, and many times, I am facinated by reflections, to the point where I'm considering doing a series on them. However, I'll start by reading up on how painters approach them. But first, I am going to have to update my website, write a newsletter, and figure out how to sell the remaining kits from the classes I taught this spring. There are quite a few blue poppies, a number of red poppies, a couple of peonies and a few hosta kits left. When I have some time I will get them up in the shopping cart on my website and they will be available for a limited time until they are gone. I will post here when they are available. Soon, oh so soon, my vacation will begin :-)