Fun with Paints – Acrylic Pours

I am very grateful to note that the dryer, hot water tank, chimney and furnace I mentioned in my last post have all been repaired and/or replaced.  Yay!

But my sewing machines, fabrics, and tools have yet to be unpacked and sorted out.  (They will be soon – I just haven’t had time!) Meanwhile, I have been in some serious need of quick creative therapy…

Happily, I came back from my recent trip to New York to see my sister all jazzed up and inspired by her very patient and very inspiring hands-on demo of acrylic pours. I love messing around with paint, but this technique was new to me. In retrospect, I kind of wish we had gotten the paints out at the beginning of the visit instead of detouring into the art room at 10:30 pm the night before we were to leave first thing in the morning, but sometimes things just happen that way. And honestly, there’s nothing we did during our visit that I would have wanted to miss; so on second thought, I’m tickled pink about my late-night introduction to acrylic pours – even though I did come home with paint on my favorite robe 🙂

Also happily, when we popped into Michaels after our trip, acrylic paints and packaged sets of 10″ x 10″ canvases were on a huge sale, and I had another stackable coupon on my phone for an additional 20% of the entire purchase. I took it as a sign and loaded up on inexpensive materials I wouldn’t worry about using up.

The basic concept Amy showed me was very simple. We mixed individual small plastic cups of white acrylic paint and a few additional colors with an extender to make them flow more easily, added just a bit of silicone, and then filled a larger plastic cup with a layer of thinned white paint, then a color, then white, and so on. Then we placed a canvas on top of the cup and flipped the whole thing over, pulling the cup away to allow the paint to spread out over the canvas. This is very messy, so plenty of newspaper, paper towels and plastic garbage bags were extremely helpful. She also lined a large box with plastic to contain the paint that ran off the edges of the canvases. 

Supplies I purchased for my experimentation. I also picked up a couple of cheap vinyl tablecloths to cover my worktable and floor, as well as thin plastic gloves. 

But it’s also surprisingly complex! Continue Reading…

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Colorwash Bargello – Free-Motion Quilting!

This is the eleventh in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

I am following the pattern for Cascade, the most beginner-friendly pattern from Colorwash Bargello Quilts.

I’ve layered my quilt top, Hobb’s Heirloom Fusible Batting, and backing fabric, and fused the layers together.  It’s a little unusual, but when I use fusible batting, I like to rough cut my batting about 2″ bigger all around than the quilt top and the backing fabric about 4″ bigger all around than the quilt top. This allows me to wrap the extra backing fabric around to the front and cover up the exposed batting – which helps keep the heat-activated adhesive in the batting from getting on my iron when I press around the outer edges of the quilt.  (This extra fabric and batting gives me something to hold onto when stitching close to the edges of the quilt.)

When I use fusible batting, I like to wrap extra backing fabric around to the front to cover up the exposed batting. No worries if it looks messy – it will all get cut off when I’m finished quilting.

I’ve decided to go with the variegated pastel Rainbows thread as my top thread and pale yellow Bottom Line in my bobbin. I’m using a Schmetz Embroidery needle, size 80, as this particular spool is one of the very early batches of this thread, and is a little more delicate than later versions. The Embroidery needle has a groove on the shaft that will help reduce friction on the thread, and therefore reduce the possibility of fraying or breakage.

On a quilt like this, I usually start on one corner and work my way across the quilt.

Working my way across the quilt

Continue Reading…

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Colorwash Bargello – Choosing Thread for Free-Motion Quilting

This is the tenth in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

I am following the pattern for Cascade, the most beginner-friendly pattern from Colorwash Bargello Quilts.

The quilt top is complete, and as I discussed in my previous post, I’ve decided to free-motion quilt this project.  I’m raring to get started!  I’m leaning towards a variegated thread that has a nice sheen. Although you don’t usually notice the color of the thread used for the quilting until you are right up close, it can have significant impact on the finished quilt.

A quick refresher for a few of my readers who aren’t quilters:

  • A “quilt” is traditionally composed of 3 layers: quilt top (which may be pieced together, appliquéd, or whole-cloth), the batting (I’ll be using 80/20 Hobbs Heirloom Cotton batting), and the backing fabric.
  • “Quilting” refers to the stitching (by hand or machine) that is done to hold the 3 layers together.
  • “Free-motion” quilting refers to dropping the feed dogs (the feed dogs are what normally moves the fabric through the sewing machine as you sew) and creating a design by moving the fabric manually (kind of like drawing on paper, except in this case, the pencil/machine is stationary and the paper/fabric is what moves).

A few of my personal observations about my thread choices:

  • I like thread with a bit of shine! In my early days, I often used rayon thread, but I switched to high-quality trilobal polyester threads such as Isacord, Rainbows, and Fantastico (the latter 2 are from Superior Threads) as they became available. These newer threads have beautiful sheen, are reliably colorfast, virtually lint-free, and are much less likely to shred or break while you are stitching. (Note: you may still get lint build-up in your machine from your batting and backing, as well as from your bobbin thread, if you are using cotton.)

    I like the subtle sheen this thread adds to the quilt. The pastel color changes show up a little better in person than they do on camera.

  • I especially enjoy variegated thread – especially brands such as Rainbows or Fantastico, both of which change color every inch.  

    Fantastico thread from Superior Threads

Continue Reading…

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Colorwash Bargello – Machine Quilting Options

This is the ninth in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

I am following the pattern for Cascade, the most beginner-friendly pattern from Colorwash Bargello Quilts.

The quilt top is complete, and I’m considering my options for machine quilting the quilt top, batting, and backing together.

There are no rules about how best to quilt a bargello quilt, only preferences.

Sometimes I feel that adding a lot of free-motion quilting might distract from the power and clarity of the design.

In those cases, I usually opt for clear MonoPoly thread in my needle and a walking foot (or even-feed foot) on my machine and hide the stitching “in the ditch” between the vertical rows. Fire on the Savannah from Colorwash Bargello Quilts is a good example of this – you can’t see the quilting on the front of the quilt unless you examine it extremely closely.

Close-up of the quilting on Fire on the Savannah from Colorwash Bargello Quilts by Beth Ann Williams

Another “in the ditch” alternative is to stair-step the quilting, following the design line.

Close-up of the backside of a version of Cascade from Colorwash Bargello Quilts made by Sandy Harvey. Note the “stair-step” quilting along every third fabric in the vertical rows. This stitching is hidden “in the ditch” on the front of the quilt.

At other times, I deliberately use lots of free-motion quilting with highly visible thread (and a free-motion foot) to add an additional design element to the quilt. You may not notice the quilting from a distance, but it can be a fun surprise when you get up close! I also like to use the color of the thread as an additional unifying element in the quilt – the subtle sheen or veil of color it creates across the surface of the quilt can help reinforce a cohesive impression of the design as a unified whole rather than emphasizing individual colors or pieces of fabric.

Here are some close-ups of the free-motion machine quilting on some of my bargello quilts:

Close-up of the quilting on Cascade from Colorwash Bargello Quilts by Beth Ann Williams

Continue Reading…

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Colorwash Bargello – Measuring & Sewing the Borders

This is the eighth in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

I am following the pattern for Cascade, the most beginner-friendly pattern from Colorwash Bargello Quilts.

I’ve picked out my border and am ready to sew it on.

When I first started quilting many, many years ago, I would just lay my border strip across the end of the quilt, sew it on, and then cut off any extra border fabric that extended past the edge of the quilt.

Sometimes this method seemed to work just fine; but other times, I would find myself grappling with quilt edges that were bowed instead of straight, wavy edges, or even little “volcanoes” or bulging areas within the quilt.

The problem was that the outer edges of a pieced quilt sometimes seem to “grow” or stretch a little more (from handling?) than the interior of the quilt. This tendency could be exacerbated if the pieced quilt had a lot of small pieces, strip-piecing, bias edges, or even just a lot of cross-grain pieces – especially if the fabrics in the quilts varied even a little in weave. (High-quality batik fabrics usually stretch a little less than high-quality quilting-weight cottons, which usually stretch a little less than chain-store quilting cottons, etc.)

What I eventually learned is that perfectly flat quilts with perfectly square corners are much easier to achieve if you follow these tips:

  • Always measure through the center of the quilt to determine border lengths
  • Always cut parallel borders together, so that they are exactly the same in length
  • Pin, pin, pin! 

BUT if the discrepancy between the center of the quilt and the outer edge of the quilt is more than 1/4″, I recommend strategically trimming the quilt top or “squaring it up” before proceeding with the borders!  

Here is how this method looks in practice:

I like to add the side borders first, so I begin my measuring through the center of the quilt vertically

Continue Reading…

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Colorwash Bargello – Auditioning Borders

This is the seventh in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

I am following the Cascade pattern from Colorwash Bargello Quilts.
The body of the quilt top is complete, and now it is time for the border. 

Cascade from Colorwash Bargello Quilts – ready for borders! (the blue painter’s tape numbers at the top of each vertical row can also come off now)

When I teach quilting classes or workshops, I usually caution class participants to wait, if possible, to make their final choice of border fabric until the interior of the quilt has been completed. This is because the sum can be much more than its parts! The way the colors, values, and visual textures of the fabrics interact with each other, as well as with the border fabric, can produce significantly different results from what you might anticipate.

Furthermore, like any scrap quilt (or multi-fabric quilt), a bargello quilt can often be made to read as a “blue” or “brown” or “green” quilt simply by adding a border of that color.

I find it helpful to lay the quilt top out on top of any fabric I am considering for a border so that I can see the border fabric on most or all of at least 2 sides of the quilt top.

To illustrate, I’ll share with you some of the border fabrics I “auditioned” for this project: Continue Reading…

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Colorwash Bargello – Laying Out the Vertical Rows

This is the fifth in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

Now that my loops are all cut from the strip-pieced tubes (see previous post), I’m ready to open the loops up and lay out  the bargello segments that form the vertical rows. This is exciting, as it will be the first chance to see what the finished quilt will look like.

I start by laying all the loops on my worktable in order. Remember – the colors are different in the photo only because the tubes have been rotated differently. All of the odd numbered loops have been cut from one tube, and all of the even numbered loops have been cut from another tube.

Laying the loops out in order first on the worktable – note the alternating direction of the seam allowances

Now it’s time to open up the loops!

I like to use an inexpensive foam core board for this. Being able to look at the design vertically helps immensely. As I open each loop, I pin it to the board and transfer the number to the top of the bargello strip.

Continue Reading…

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Making a Bargello Quilt – Fabric Selection & Arrangement

This is the second in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

Strip set for a Colorwash Bargello quilt

I spend two entire chapters discussing selecting a palette of fabrics and using color, value, and visual texture to help arrange them to maximum effect in my book Colorwash Bargello Quilts.  I won’t try to repeat all of that here, but I’ll boil it down to essentials.

Note: Since batik fabrics are generally more tightly woven (and therefore have a little less stretch) than other quilting-weight cottons, I highly recommend that you stick with either ALL batik fabrics or NO batik fabrics for your first bargello quilt. The slight differential in stretch can make matching intersections more of a pain than a pleasure when assembling the quilt. However, if you have lots of strip-piecing experience, press very carefully, and are accustomed to mixing these fabrics, than feel free to go ahead – I do it myself! I just want to warn you that it has the potential to make life a little more challenging…

  • I generally use 18 or more different fabrics in a Colorwash Bargello quilt. Don’t worry – it’s a lot easier to pick out that many fabrics than it sounds! It helps if you don’t overthink it at the beginning of the process. I recommend starting with either a focus fabric, a mental picture, or a theme.
    • The easiest type of focus fabric to work from is a medium-to-large scale, asymmetrical, multicolored print containing a range of values from dark to light. But don’t fall into the trap of overmatching the exact colors in your focus fabric! Variations in color, value, and/or intensity only add to the richness of your palette.
    • Once you have your focus fabric, mental image, or theme in mind, start gathering fabrics that share the same or similar colors, making sure to also grab fabrics that are lighter, darker, brighter or duller. It’s best to have lots to choose from!
  • I narrow down my choices by grouping fabrics into “runs” – 2 or more fabrics arranged from light to dark and “blenders” – fabrics that have 2 or more colors and/or values that can be used as transitions between runs.

Grouping my fabric into “runs” and identifying potential “blenders”

Continue Reading…

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Making a Bargello Quilt – Cascade

Cascade, designed and quilted by Beth Ann Williams, pieced by Pam Crans for Colorwash Bargello Quilts. 29″ x 34.5″

This is the first in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

For a little more background information, you can check out my previous post, Colorwash Bargello.

For this series, I’ll be referring to the Cascade pattern from my book Colorwash Bargello Quilts.  If you don’t have the book or would rather design your own bargello quilt, you can still follow along and find a lot of (hopefully!) helpful information.

This has been one of my most popular bargello classes, as it can easily be completed in a day (or two days, if you are having lots of fun with your friends).

To help you start brainstorming a color palette for your own bargello quilt, I’d like to share some of the ways my students and friends have interpreted this pattern:

Cascade II, made by Eileen R. Clous from pattern in Colorwash Bargello Quilts. (gift from Eileen)

Continue Reading…

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Colorwash Bargello

What makes a quilt a bargello quilt?

And what does colorwash mean?

In the introduction to my second book, Colorwash Bargello Quilts, I credited 3 main influences:

  • Centuries-old bargello needlepoint, also known as Hungarian point, flame stitch, or Florentine work.

    Two examples of Bargello needlepoint patterns or Florentine work. (Left) typical curved Bargello motif, (Right) “flame stitch” motif. Image from Velvet-Glove (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) Public domain, via Wikimedia

  • Modern strip-piecing methods pioneered in the 1970s by quilt artists such as Barbara Johannah
  • Colorwash/watercolor quilting designers in the early 1990s such as Deirdre Amsden, Pat Maixner Magaret, and Donna Slusser.

I also recognize the influence of traditional quilt patterns such as Trip Around the World and Star of Bethlehem or Lone Star when the makers have used gradations of color and/or value in their fabric layout.

In my bargello-style quilts, I emphasize blending the colors and visual textures of the fabrics to create smooth gradations and transitions or “washes” of color across the face of the quilt, punctuated at intervals with areas of higher contrast.

Close-up of Aurora pattern from Colorwash Bargello Quilts showing gradations from light to dark and back again, as well as areas of  higher contrast.

Continue Reading…

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