Tag Archives: problem-solving

Embracing Limitations

I shake.  Most notably, my hands shake.   Some days are worse than others.  I have a condition called “Essential Tremor”. The diagnosis came back in the 90’s and after trying a couple of medications with side effects that were worse than the condition, I’ve resigned myself to live with it.

My photo of nephew Jake at his commissioning ceremony.

My photo of nephew Jake at his commissioning ceremony.

The condition has been both a curse and a blessing in my art. The tremor makes it difficult for me to take good photos.  I have a new camera that has an anti-shake feature, but some days, it’s just not enough.  I like to work from my own photos so that I don’t have to worry about copyright issues, but am finding that increasingly difficult.  This is a contributing factor to my working from historical photos.

stitching oops!

stitching oops!

Another reality is that I have difficulty sewing a straight line when stitching with my longarm machine.  If you ever see my work on a traditional quilt design, you would not be impressed.  The up side is that it led me to thread painting.  My style of free-motion stitching doesn’t rely on the same kind of precision.  When it is necessary to be precise with details, I must slow down.  Sometimes, I make one stitch at a time: needle up, needle down, needle up, needle down. Sometimes, I despair, wondering what will happen to my art if and when the conditions becomes worse.

I just found an inspiring TED talk by an artist with a similar condition.  It applies to anyone on a creative journey and I want to share it with you. Phil Hansen TED talk



What’s new? It’s cold.

Finally! I’m starting on my next big piece.  Like Bike Boys, it is based on an historical photo from the archives of the History Museum in Denver.  The photo features a group of Native American men, I assume to be Lakota warriors, on horseback, crossing, what I suppose is the Platt River.

I’m changing the figures around to create a more pleasing composition.  In the original photo, the main figure sits tall on a horse looking directly at the viewer.  He is flanked on either on either side by figures in side or back view.  My plan is to flip these figures around so that the new figure on the far left is looking over his shoulder back toward the viewer and the central figure, thus bringing the focus back to the central warrior. I’m auditioning a couple of options for placement.

Option 1

Option 1


Option 1:  The size of the figures works for their placement, but the depth of water is wrong.









Option 2

Option 2

Options 2:  I like the diagonal flow of the composition, but the figure in the foreground is too small.  Enlarging him will throw off the balance of the piece.










The problem this creates has to do with the depth of the water. When looking at the horses legs and how deep they are in the water, everything gets confusing.  The solution is to change the position of the viewer. The original photo seems to have ben taken from the edge of the river, but I will shift the riders so that the viewer is placed in the center of the river, in the deep water, looking toward the far shore.

Temps outside the glass door are sub-zero.

Temps outside the glass door are sub-zero.

With that decided, I’ve begun drawing the pattern for the central t rider.  He’s so large that I must use my back door for a light table. Unfortunately, sub-zero temperatures are brushing up against the other side of that door. It takes only a few minutes of drawing for my fingers to begin to turn numb from the cold.  I find, that if I’m going to make any progress, I’ve got to don gloves to keep my hands warm.  It’s a little awkward, but do-able.



Judging a Book by its Cover

Panning CoverAfter working on my new book all summer: sewing samples, photographing the stages, and explaining it all with text, it came time to design the cover.  I thought that using a photo of my work, “Panning for Gold” would be great since it has won a couple of awards this year.  That’s when I discovered the benefits of having a great editor and designer looking out for me.

It was pointed out to me that the cover I proposed was drab in color and portrayed an old, poor man, working hard in an icy mountain stream–No joy there!!  I was also forced to consider how the cover would look on a website where it would appear only a few inches high.  Details are lost, and colors blend together.  A cover has to work at full size and in miniature.

Another consideration is how the book will be displayed in a shop.  Often books are stacked on shelves that allow only the top 2 inches of the book to be seen.  This means that those top 2 inches are prime real-estate.

Finally, I didn’t want to add a subtitle.  Sometimes those seem to go on forever.  I like short and sweet.  Again, my team showed the value of using this opportunity to further define my book topic for those who are not familiar with my work.

I can’t say enough good things about Janice Brewster, editor, and Karen Sulmonetti, designer.  They are The Creative Girlfriends.  If you are thinking about writing a book, click on their link and get started.

With all of this in mind, it was back to the drawing board, and sewing machine, for a new and improved cover.  Here is what we came up with:


Getting Rid of Those Unwanted Bumps

Lumps in the back tire

Lumps in the back tire

The recently finished Bike Boys crossed the finish line with some unwanted bumps and lumps. This was most prominent in the area around the bike tires.  Sewing in a circular motion, and some significant corrective stitching caused some stretching that made that part of the quilt pop up.  I needed a way to block the quilt.  Because of it’s size, roughly 4×6 feet, simply pressing it wasn’t sufficient.

Once again, it was an artist friend that came to the rescue.  Peggy, my dog sitter, and an accomplished  water color artist told me how she used to block her water color paintings.  She placed them face down on a piece of glass, sprayed the back with water, placed a second piece of glass over the top, weighted it down and waited for 2 or more weeks.

I was able to create a similar set up, large enough for my quilt, using a couple of large tables at the school where I teach.  Once school was out for the summer, I found an out of the way room with 2 large conference tables. I cleaned the tables thoroughly.  With a bit of help, I turned one table over and stacked it on the other with the quilt in between.  I did give the quilt a spritzing and a little extra moisture in the trouble spots, and walked away for 2 weeks.

I checked back in this week and, to my amazement, it worked!.  The piece will need to be handled with some care so as not to stretch it out of shape again.

Bike Boys

Bike Boys


In the future, I think I can repeat this process using the hardwood floor in my living room and a piece of Plexiglass.

Now, it’s time for me to go out for a run and try to get rid of some of my own unwanted lumps and bumps.


Bike Boys Cross the Finish Line

Bike Boys

Finally, it’s done!  I finished the stitching and added a little extra to give context and a resting space.  I was a bit nervous about adding a neutral background around the Boys, but, in the end, felt that the panel was just too intense and needed some space for the eye to rest. I struggled with how much space to add.  If you add too much space, you lose  intensity.  However, I also know that if it isn’t enough, then the piece actually looks wimpy and weak.  I turned the original panel askew to keep the added space small but powerful.  I think that turning the boys uphill makes them stronger.  Imagine the same panel turned downhill–they would appear to be coasters.  This is better.

I shared the piece with some friends and colleagues.  What was most interesting to them was the historical context of the image.  The inspiration for this piece was a photo found in the archives of the History Colorado Museum in Denver.   The Fowler Sextuplet was the first bicycle built for 6.  It was brought to the Denver Cycle Show in 1896 to race against the Empire State Express.  I’ve spent a good bit of time researching, but can’t find any information as to who won the race.  I hope this doesn’t mean they all crashed and burned.

The Bike Boys paused for a photo that submits them to a fiber art competition in Houston.  Let’s keep our collective fingers crossed that they have a more notable finish in that competition.


Adam and the Paperectomy

Finally, it’s time to begin work on the people in this composition.  I’m going back to the beginning, the first image that I fused with

The vest in cool reds

fabric, the man in the background on far right.  Since he is first, I’m calling him Adam.  Because he is a less significant figure, I’m using him as a warm-up to the big buys on the bike.  I started with the vest, using cooler reds than in the bike frame so as to push it into the background,

I move next to the face, again selecting a group of cool grays that will fall back from the warmer tones I will use on the actual bike boys.

The face emerges

Finally, I work on the coat.  This is where I find that the dimensions on the arm are messed up.  I will try to redefine them with thread by making the upper arm wider, and shaving off some of the lower edge of the fore sleeve with darker thread that will put it into shadow sooner.  Check back later to see how this works out.

Got to fix that sleeve

Stitching people is a bit intense. when I have only a short period of time to work and don’t want to dive into the details, I move to the background and begin filling it in.  I discover that this too, presents problems.  While stitching, I begin to hear a clicking noise.  Investigation reveals that I didn’t remove a piece of backing paper before assembling this portion of the work.  I need to go in and get it. I declare the need for a “paperectomy” and prepare for surgery.  See this delicate operation below.  The important thing is to make incisions through the layers at various places.  Once done, I can stitch over the area and seal up the cuts that I’ve made.  The patient will survive with no permanent scars.

Horizontal cut through tulle

Scissors under tulle make vertical cut through fabric.

Loosen and remove paper.


Bike Tire

This week, I’ve managed to finish the bike frame and the tires.  I’ve taken a series of photos of the back tire to show how I progress from the lightest threads to the darkest, and then add accents (bits of black) and highlights (bits of white).  Aside from the white and black, I used 4 values of thread, but chose 2 threads for each value.  One was slightly warmer and the other cooler.  I’ve set up my threads and a reference photo on the laptop.  Now, I’m ready to get started.

I work my way around the tire using both threads of each value, but use more of the warmer thread in the back, lit part of the tire, and more of the cooler thread in the front, or shaded side of the tire. Here is how it went.

scissors point to trouble spot.

On may way around I discover trouble: the lines of the tire don’t line up well as they appear between the parts of the frame.  I’ll have to keep this in mind and make some corrections with the darker threads.

I use the mid-value threads to blend the edges of the tire trouble spots with the background.

scissors point to blending away of bad edges

I use the darker threads to redefine the edges so that they line up.

edges redefined

Now, I consult my photo from several weeks back showing the strings.  I use this to select key spots to add white and black to create highlights and accents at just the right spots. (see blog from 3/1/2014).

A mere four hours later, and it’s all done. Hmmm, what to tackle next…







Bike Boys Ride a New Machine

After a week of taking care of other responsibilities, I’m back to work on the Bike Boys.  Today I loaded them on the long arm quilting machine.  This was no small task since pieces are still coming loose.  

In addition to the backing and batting, I’ve inserted a layer of painters canvas under the Bike Boys appliqué.  This will help to stabilize the piece as it is stitched.  A layer of fine tulle netting goes over the top.  This will keep all of those raw edges from getting fuzzy and will help to hold the small bits in place as I stitch.  Because of the difficulties with the fusible, I did not wrap the the appliqué layer around the bars of the frame.  I was afraid it would all come apart.  

The most time-consuming part of the process is getting rid of all those little bits of thread and fluff.  I have to carefully run a lint roller over the surface, and then over the tulle.  The tulle seems to have a lot of static electricity so things keep jumping back on to it.  

Finally, it is all pinned in place and lint free.  I’ll wrap up this work session by doing some outline stitching around various spots, just enough to hold all the layers in place as I roll the composition back and forth when the real thread-painting gets started tomorrow.

All goes well, until I stand back to appreciate my progress and what do I spot??  Two little what spots of lint trapped under the tulle.  



Casting a Net Over Bike Boys

While I’m anxious to put the boys on the long arm and begin stitching, there is still some prep work to be done.  I’ve put the piece back on the design wall, put pins at the corners and 1/3 points along the sides.  Next I wrapped string connecting the points and creating a sort of net over the Boys.

These strings are really a network of tangents that run across the surface.  I can use them to identify  lost and found lines that fall on these strings.  I did this a few weeks back when the piece was only partially fused.  Now that it is done, I’ll choose a few key tangents and  accentuate them by stitching highlights and shadows so that they help guide the viewers eye through and around the piece.  Of course this key stitching will be the last stitching that I do on the long arm, but I need to identify these  tangents now, so that I can avoid removing and reloading the piece on the long arm later.

This is also a time to look over the composition and note areas that need some color or value correction.  For example, the bike frame under the front rider’s bum is just a bit too light.  I can cover it with a darker fabric now, or stitch it with darker thread later.  I think it is hard to see in this photo, but the man behind the bike, standing on the sidewalk, should have his feet showing, and they have been done in sidewalk fabric and are obscured.  They sit just on the line going across the bottom third of the piece.  That, I will fix with fabric now, taking care not to make them too strong.

I’ll have to leave this up for a few days and review it several times as it is hard to catch everything in just one viewing.  Do you see anything?



Fully fused–almost

I’ve made huge progress on the Bike Boys this past week.  My goal was to complete the fusing phase of the project.  While the flywheels in the back need some detailing, and one of the pedals has fallen off and gotten lost, the main work is done.  There is enough to look at to make it worthwhile to pin it back up on the design wall and stand back for the full effect.

Having said that, there is still much work to be done.  I’ve already spotted some mistakes.  Can you find them?  And, of course, I’ve got to finish those gears.  I continue to have problems with the fusible not sticking.  At this point, I’ve resorted to glue stick to hold some bits in place.  Moving the piece is being kept to a minimum and I’m a bit worried about what will happen when the whole thing gets wrapped onto the long arm frame.  This will be a busy week , so I’m sure I won’t have to face that reality for another 2 weeks.

Once on the long arm, The stitching will happen in several phases.  First, there will be outlining to hold things in place.  Then, there will be heavy stitching to shade, blend, and contour.  Finally, there will be detailing to accentuate some areas and make them pop.  Stay tuned.  I will guide you through each step.