Friday, November 13, 2015

Brother & Sister: Both Quilters & Beaders

My brother, Thom Atkins, is a very talented quilt and bead artist!

Thom Atkins, quilter, beader, artist gives a lecture about beaded quilts

He's written a popular book about how to make beaded quilts.

Beading Artistry for Quilts by Thom Atkins

Recently he sent me a wonderful birthday present - a box of his scraps to use for making hexie flowers for my in-progress, hand-pieced, hexie quilt. Forty-nine different fabrics makes quite a stack of flowers.

Robin Atkins, hexie quilt, stack of 49 stitched hexie flowers made with Thom Atkins fabric scraps

Here they are again, this time arranged on a flat surface (click photo to enlarge for details). It's way fun to play with the flowers, re-arranging them in different ways, re-stacking them, and then spreading them out again.

Robin Atkins, hexie quilt, 49 stitched hexie flowers made with Thom Atkins fabric scraps

All the while I was cutting, basting, and stitching these flowers I was thinking about Thom, about our history and our mutual love of stitching. I recognized most of the fabrics. One was in a quilt we made 19 years ago for our mom's 80th birthday. Some were from blouses, dresses, shirts he made for himself and his wife. Some were from pillows and other home decor he made for their home. Some were from his early quilts. Most of them brought up a ton of memories for me!

I always like (and sometimes love) things that Thom makes, and yet I've also noticed when we are in a fabric store together, we do not gravitate toward the same fabrics. I wouldn't have guessed that I would use almost every one of the fabric scraps he sent. There were a few that were too glitzy, had a stronger metallic look than I like. But 90% or more could have come from my own stash. That's how much I like them.... leaving me to conclude that we are more alike than I thought.

Robin Atkins and Thom Atkins, sister and brother, circa 1947

Here we are as kids... book ends.  Me 16 months older than him.

What's it like when brother and sister, close in age, are both quilters and beaders, both of us entering our quilts in shows, both of us teaching workshops and writing books?

Are we competitive?

A little, but not very much in my opinion. I admit to being a little "nervous" when he took up bead embroidery a few years after I make it the focus of both my art and my career. In artistic matters, he has a quicker learning curve than I do, rapidly achieving excellence in any medium he tries.

The fact that he likes bling and representational, while I like matte and symbolic, makes our work look different, which helps. We're also very different in our approach to quilt designing. While I am heavily influenced by traditional quilts, his quilts are all "art quilts." Most of his are heavily beaded, while mine are mostly not. Right from the start, he usually has a complete "picture" in his mind of what his quilt will look like when finished; whereas I rarely have a clue what mine will be like until I'm nearly finished with it.

Nor have we had issues with our teaching. I mostly teach beaders, emphasizing bead embroidery techniques rather than projects. He mostly teaches quilters, concentrating on methods for sewing beads onto quilts. There are enough teaching opportunities for both of us to accept as many gigs as we can handle.

What's the best thing about our mutual passions for beading and quilting?

Well, we talk on the phone for hours at a time about our current projects. Our conversations would bore everybody else in our families to death, but for us it's exciting to share our ideas, challenges, and victories. We do it often! It seems each of us has always respected the artistic sensibility and skills of the other. It's great to have somebody you can count on to say, "That's really wonderful," when you show them your latest work.

We also share information about photography, opportunities for showing our quilts, inspirations, promotion of our books, and countless other related things. We help each other to solve problems and to grow artistically.

It seems pretty ideal; was it always like that?

If you've read my first book, One Bead at a Time, available here as a free download, you know that Thom grew up favored to be the artist in the family, showing his talents at a very early age. My bend was more academic, although I had no clear pathway. After majoring in art in college, Thom rapidly became established as an artist. After majoring in English and psychology, I muddled around in a couple of careers for many years. I didn't discover my passion for beading or start to think of myself as an artist until I was 46 years old. Until then I always admired Thom's art, but didn't relate directly to him about it. I'm glad it is different now; glad we are both talented and creative... together!

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Tips for Cutting Fabrics for a Hexie Quilt

I'm making 3/4" hexies, which means each of the six sides measures 3/4 of an inch. For these I need to cut 2" squares. (At the end of this post there is a table showing the size of fabric squares that corresponds to each of the standard sizes of hexie paper pieces.) To make each hexie flower, I need 6 squares for the petals and 1 square for the center. This is how I cut them.

hexie tutorial: for 3/4" hexies, cut rows of 2" strips into 2" squares
The first thing I do, is sort my scraps into piles by size. The easiest to work with are strips. These I iron, sort by approximate width, and stack 6 strips high, aligning the top and right side edges. Then I cut each stack of 6 strips to exactly 2" wide by slightly more than 14" long. From each one of the strips, I will get one set of petals and one center. After cutting 5 stacks of strips (a total of 30 different fabrics), line them up next to each other as shown above, and cross-cut 2" squares through all of the strip piles at once.

hexie cutting tutorial: pile stacks of 2" squares, alternating orientation of each stack

Now, pick up the piles of 2" squares, and place them in stacks, alternating the orientation as shown above.

hexie tutorial: trim corners off squares, cutting 6 at a time

Next, use dressmaker's shears to trim the corners off of each of the piles. Each pile has 6 fabrics, so you are trimming 6 at a time. Re-stack them as shown above. Note that there are only 6 piles in each row. The 7th pile in each stack, I have set aside to use for centers. These I keep separate from the petal sets, selecting a center for each petal set later in the flower-making process.

hexie tutorial: the yield from cutting the strip is 36  petal sets

The final step is to separate each of the piles into 6 separate piles, one for each of the fabrics. You will end up with 30 singles piles, or petal sets, each with 6 of the same cut and corner-trimmed fabric, enough to make 30 hexie flowers.

Certainly there are other, and even possibly more efficient ways to cut fabrics for hexies, but this way works well for me. Some quilters recommend using the squares without trimming the corners. I tried it that way, but went back to corner-trimming because I like not having the extra bulk toward the centers of each hexie. I'm especially glad I trimmed the corners on my Grandmother's Flower Garden hexie quilt, because it was that much less to stitch through in the hand-quilting process.

Sometimes, the fabric scraps are not strips, or would more effectively be cut as a chunk rather than strip. Basically it's the same process. I stack 6 different fabrics, aligning the top and right hand edges. From this stack, I cut a 4 x 6 inch block, and then cut that in half to make two 2 x 6 inch strips. I align the strips the same way as the 14" strips above, cross-cutting several at one time, and finish the same way as described above.

Fabric Cutting Guide for Different Sizes of Hexies

1/4" hexie  --- cut 1" squares
1/2" hexie  --- cut 1-1/2" squares
3/4" hexie  --- cut 2" squares
1" hexie ------ cut 2-1/2" squares
1-1/4" hexie - cut 3" squares
1-1/2" hexie - cut 3-1/2" squares
2" hexie ------ cut 4-1/2" squares
3" hexie ------ cut 6-1/2" squares
4" hexie ------ cut 8-1/2" squares
6" hexie ------ cut 12-1/2" squares

A very handy, and more complete cutting guide is available from Paper Pieces, which is where I get my pieces. Nope, I don't cut my own; too boring, and I really like the precision of die-cut paper pieces!

For a lot more helpful tips on making a hexie quilt, please see these posts:

Grandma's Flower Garden - 3/4 Inch Hexie Quilt - Time Study

Hand Quilting a Hexie Quilt

Hexie Quilt - Embroidery Quilting in Flower Centers

Hexie Quilt - Paper Pieces are GONE + Tips

Hexie Quilt - To Fix or Not to Fix

Hexie Quilt Top - Almost Finished

Hexies Galore - Grandma's Flower Garden

Grandma's Flower Garden Quilt - I'm Doin' It!

Quilters, Beaders, and Embroiders are the World's Most Generous People!

gifted fabrics for my hexie quilt, flower petal sets
The quilting community is awesomely generous!!!  Thanks to all who have sent me scraps for making hexie flowers:

Lunnette Higdon Hertel
Judy Lynn
Nancy Anders
Kris Phillips
Carol Holland
Bobbi Pohl
Debbie Schnabel
Sue Shufel
Phyllis Petersen
Thom Atkins
Sabine Keichel
Yvonne Morrill
Sylvia Griffin
Christmas Cowell

I really understand and appreciate that it takes time to sort through your scraps, selecting some that you feel might work for me, packing them to send, getting them to the post office. In some cases, you even took time to cut them into 2" squares for me... WOW! Bless your hearts!

The most interesting thing is that all the fabrics I've received so far are ones I might have picked myself, yet so far there are no duplicates. As of Oct. 19th, I have cut petal sets for about 650 flowers (from my own scraps and fat quarter stash, as well as scraps I've received from other quilters), all of them unique! That's about 90% of what I need to make the quilt, and certainly enough to keep me busy for a looooooong time. It will probably take me a year or so to baste and stitch all of the flowers, although I admit to going at it with a lot of gusto.

Monday, September 28, 2015

What! Again? Another Hexie Quilt Started?!

Mama's Garden, Hexie Quilt by Robin Atkins, hand pieced, embroidered, quilted; detail
If you're a Beadlust reader, you know I worked for three years (more than 1,300 hours) to hand piece, hand embroider, and hand quilt Mama's Garden, with 4,700 3/4-inch hexies, a true labor of love. A big push this spring got it finished in time to enter into the International Quilt Festival in La Conner, WA. Hooray, hooray, the judges accepted it into the show!!!!

Mama's Garden, Hexie Quilt by Robin Atkins, hand pieced, embroidered, quilted
This coming weekend, October 2-4, all you quilting enthusiasts will find it rewarding to make the effort and get to La Conner (WA) for the Festival, where you will see an excellent selection of quilts and fiber arts, plus a variety of interesting vendors! Here is the information. Head first for Maple Hall, a huge 2-story building, filled with quilts, at the corner of 1st Street (the main drag) and Douglas Street! Bring your camera, because photos are allowed (at least in the past they were).

Map and directions to La Conner Quilt Festival
What do you think? After all those hours, would it be crazy to even THINK about making another hexie quilt, another one with 3/4-inch hexies? Well, then I guess I'm crazy, because the irresistible call of the hexie hooked me again. And why not re-use the same paper pieces?

This one will not be traditional, and will definitely NOT be hand quilted. It will be hand pieced, using small left-over fabrics (I refuse to call them scraps), cotton prints (but not batiks). I have no idea how I will arrange them, how big it will be, or anything else about how this new project will develop.

The first step was to cut out sets of  2" x 2" squares (6 per set) to make flower petals. So far, I've cut about 130 sets. Here are 80 of them, ready to baste onto the 3/4" paper hexie pieces.

fabrics cut for hexie flower petals, new hexie quilt by Robin Atkins
From very small pieces, I cut single 2"  x 2" squares to make flower centers. These I've already basted to the paper hexie pieces.

basted hexie flower petal centers, new hexie quilt by Robin Atkins
After basting some of the petals and centers, I started choosing centers for the petal sets. This part is fun! I enjoy "auditioning" various centers until one of them seems right. I'm avoiding high value contrast between petals and centers, because I might want to do a color study with them (no borders).

arranged hexie flower petal & centers, new hexie quilt by Robin Atkins
When the urge gets really strong, I allow myself to start stitching the hexies together to make flowers.

finished hexie flowers, new hexie quilt by Robin Atkins
This quilt will probably have about 650 flowers! I've cut 130 so far, each different. I cut flower petals from all of my small pieces, every one. My preference is to have all 650 flowers different.

Sooooooo, if YOU have some small fabric pieces you'd be willing to donate, I'd love to have part of you in my quilt. This is what I need:

For petals - 2" x 12" strip, or 4" x 6" piece
For centers - 2" square (only one per fabric design)

Quilting weight cotton prints only, no batiks.
One petal set per fabric design (no duplicates).
Prefer small to medium scale prints.

Mail to:
Robin Atkins
1785 Douglas Road #4
Friday Harbor  WA  98250


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Wool Applique + Thread Embroidery + Beads = Happy Quilts!!!

Margaret & Scott, a wall quilt by Robin Atkins
Oh dear, busy me, four months since I've posted here. Lots of quilting, a little beading, some travels, and recently several sets of house guests have made "retirement" a bit of a joke. For now, since the La Conner Quilt Festival is just around the corner (October 2-4), my subject is one small exhibition on the first floor at the Museum, which is currently up, and will remain through the Festival.

Last year at the Festival (and again this year!) Sue Spargo taught workshops on her wool applique embroidery methods. Those of us who were lucky enough to get in were invited by the Museum to exhibit our finished pieces. These marvelous creations are the subject of this post. Uneven lighting makes it difficult to get good photos, so please forgive poor color or tone on some of these photos.

In case you are unfamiliar with Sue's work, below is an example of her work. Students in her class could choose to make chicks, circles, or flowers. Most chose the chicks. Eight of her students are showing their work in the current exhibit.

Chicks, a wall quilt by Sue Spargo, embroidery on wool applique
My vote for the most awesome-creative piece goes to Bunny Starbuck for She Has Flown the Coop! Here it is:

She Has Flown the Coop, a wall quilt by Bunny Starbuck, embroidery on wool applique
Having put my chicks all in neat rows similar to Sue's example, I find it amazing that Bunny's mind took the idea and made a whole different story of it... a coop full of chicks, with two in line on the roof ready to follow the one already in the air. Don't you just love the way the lines divide the space?!

She Has Flown the Coop, a wall quilt by Bunny Starbuck, detail

She Has Flown the Coop, a wall quilt by Bunny Starbuck, detail

She Has Flown the Coop, a wall quilt by Bunny Starbuck, detail

She Has Flown the Coop, a wall quilt by Bunny Starbuck, detail
Note Bunny's use of whispy yarn to suggest little chick feathers, her use of snaps for eyes, the one chick turned full front, the one with a bead-tassled braid and glasses, and the one with beaded loop fringe and a gathered yellow ribbon (?) yo-yo. I love them! I'm in awe, Bunny!

Below is Chicks on Parade by Dorie Benson. It's so fun the way they are so close together, with two of them going in a different direction, just as you might see in a little cluster of chicks. If you click the photo to enlarge it, you can see some of Dorie's excellent stitching and hand quilting!

The next one is Chicks by Glenys Baker, who not only did all 36 chicks but also made a second quilt featuring circles (shown further down). Awesome work, Glenys!

Chicks, a wall quilt by Glenys Baker, embroidery on wool applique
And next is Birds of a Feather Can Dance Together by Lorraine Jones. The fun of the title is matched by the fun of Lorraine's embellishments, including her border treatment. (You'll have to see this one in person, because the light from a table lamp, made the lower corner of the photo look terrible.)

Birds of a Feather Can Dance Together, a wall quilt by Lorraine Jones, embroidery on wool applique
I guess most of us like to "swim the other way," as you can see in the next piece, Chickadees, by Carrie Unick. I thought many of Corrie's embellishments were especially fun and creative, so I've also included a couple of detail photos.

Chickadees, a wall quilt by Carrie Unick, embroidery on wool applique

Chickadees, a wall quilt by Carrie Unick, detail

Chickadees, a wall quilt by Carrie Unick, detail

Last of the chicks is my piece, simply named Chicks. It was so much fun, that I made another small piece (also in the exhibition), shown at the top of this post. Both are displayed in shadow-box type frames to protect them from dust and moth damage.

Chicks, a wall quilt by Robin Atkins, embroidery on wool applique
Glenys Baker, in one year, made not only a 36-chicks quilt (shown above), but also a 48-circles quilt, Circles. How she keeps thinking of new embellishment variations I can't imagine. Yet each of her circles is completely unique! Her choice of border fabrics is perfect for the quilt, complimenting the flow of color among the circles.

Circles, a wall quilt by Glenys Baker, embroidery on wool applique

I love the fun color combinations and the way the beads enhance her embroidery on Nancy Anders' Bodacious Blooms, a joyful wall quilt if ever there was one! (Again, I couldn't quite get the color right in the photo, so you'll just have to go to the Museum to see it in person.)

Bodacious Blooms, a wall quilt by Nancy Anders, embroidery on wool applique

The name of Roberta Roberts' flower quilt, Memories, invites us to look closely at the flower with three ladybugs. I don't know the story, but I can tell there is one here... and I love that. Her embellishments are varied and fun as well.

Memories, a wall quilt by Roberta Roberts, embroidery on wool applique

Memories, a wall quilt by Roberta Roberts, detail

Memories, a wall quilt by Roberta Roberts, detail
There you have it... 10 quilts by 8 students who learned some methods of wool applique and embroidery from Sue Spargo, last year at the La Conner Quilt Festival. I'm so grateful to be one of them!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Beading + Quilting - a Happy Marriage!

It sure was a lovely surprise one day last fall when a representative from the Bead&Button Show called to ask if I would be interested in sending my beaded quilts for exhibition at the 2015 show in Milwaukee, WI.

Would I be interested? Of course I would!!! But since I'm more of a beader and don't have that many beaded quilts, I suggested they also contact my brother, Thom Atkins, who has made a mind-boggling number of beaded quilts in the last 10 years or so.

Brother-sister exhibition... how fun is that! You can see all 22 quilts in the Artisan Area of the Exhibition Hall if you're attending the show, May 27 - June 8. For those who can't make it, here are my quilts, the ones in the show. When you click on the first picture, you can see a slide show with full-size pictures.

Robin Atkins, beaded quilt, Five Cats in the Yard

Robin Atkins, beaded quilt, Five Cats in the Yard, detail

Robin Atkins, beaded quilt, April

Robin Atkins, beaded quilt, April, detail

Robin Atkins, beaded quilt, Beadlust

Robin Atkins, beaded quilt, Beadlust, detail

Robin Atkins, beaded quilt, Grandpa

Robin Atkins, beaded quilt, Intersections

Robin Atkins, beaded quilt, Intersections, detail

Robin Atkins, beaded quilt, Order & Chaos

Robin Atkins, beaded quilt, Order & Chaos, detail

It's really special how,in recent years, quilters are interested in beads, and beaders are playing with quilting, both finding ways to expand their creativity! And it's super fun to show with my bro!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

"Square Dancers" - Shimmer Quilt

Kitty Sorgen, quilter extraordinaire, and Jenny Bowker, the pattern developer, are to blame for this madness! Shimmering Triangles Jenny calls it, and shimmer it does. In fact, it can be over done to the point where it's difficult to look at. But not Kitty's... Kitty, a member of our local guild and the best colorist I know, brought her shimmer quilt to Wednesday night quilting a few months ago, and


I fell in love, bonkers, totally in love with her quilt. This isn't a great photo, but here it is, Kitty's shimmer quilt...

Shimmer quilt by Kitty Sorgen

It's so complex, at first I couldn't even figure out what was a block, squares looking like diamonds, color everywhere, blending in some places, shimmering in others. That day, on the spot, enough of us signed up and paid, filling a one-day class instantly.

Kitty Sorgen teaching shimmer quilt for our local guild

The class was on Feb. 21, 2015. Most of the students got a block finished in class, some even finished two blocks. Each block is 16" square (finished), and has 69 pieces. Below is one block, showing the construction of it.

Robin Atkins, shimmer quilt, block construction

Me? Nope. I didn't sew a stitch. Long after the other students had finished arranging their fabrics on the design wall, I was still struggling with the concept, of how to get shimmer, but not too much shimmer, still arranging my fabrics (photo below).

Robin Atkins, shimmer quilt, tentative layout

It was really difficult to imagine what would shimmer, what might be too contrasty and shimmer too much (for my taste), and what would have too little contrast and thus not shimmer at all.

Robin Atkins, shimmer quilt, final layout
At home, I laid it all out on my work tables again, rearranging and rearranging the fabrics over and over again. The trick, in my opinion, is to work the diagonals. I began with a layout of focal fabrics, in my case "painterly floral prints," leaving space between them for the companion fabrics. Then choose companion "read as solid prints," placing them at the corners of the focals. Like Kitty, I decided to repeat the companions diagonally between two focals. I don't know if this even makes sense, but maybe you can see it in the layout above.

Robin Atkins, shimmer quilt, completed block
Silly me, I thought sewing it, once I got all the fabrics placed, would be a piece of cake. NOT! Well, technically speaking, sewing it is OK. Although it does take some time and attention to detail to get all the half-square triangles square, and the points nice and pointy.

Robin Atkins, shimmer quilt, completed block
But cutting the triangles is another matter. To make the colors and shapes flow, it's important to blur the line of the focal square by blending the design/color outward through the half-square triangles. Above is an example of one that worked pretty well, because you can only barely discern the square of focal fabric in the center of the block.

Robin Atkins, shimmer quilt, cutting fabric for half-square triangles
And here is some fabric I turned into Swiss cheese trying to get triangles that would bring the focal fabric design outward, tricking they eye, making it look like a diamond rather than a square. (Sorry, I didn't take a picture of that particular finished block.)

Robin Atkins, Shimmer quilt, paper piecing

I make the half square triangles using paper piecing, with a free, downloaded template printed on 16 pound copy paper. Paper piecing has a learning curve, yes, but it does make for very accurate piecing, such that I didn't have to trim any of the finished blocks at all!

Robin Atkins, shimmer quilt, four completed blocks

Here is a picture of four finished blocks. You can see the way the companion fabrics repeat diagonally to form a 4-patch block between the focal fabrics. These two fabrics need to be close in value and color. If there is too much contrast, it draws the eye away from the focal fabrics and shimmering triangles. In the case above, I think the orange and pink contrast a little too much. Also on the left the lighter and darker green is also a bit too contrasty.  Fabric choices are difficult and important... Any one companion fabric has to work with two focal fabrics and the adjacent companion fabric, which in turn has to work with it's two adjacent focal fabrics. Sound complicated and challenging? It is!

Robin Atkins, shimmer quilt, ten completed blocks

It took many days (lost count) to finish the first half of the blocks (10 of 20)... and many more to finish the last 10 blocks... a bit character building. Many times, I told promised myself I would never do paper piecing or make another shimmer quilt again in my whole life!

Robin Atkins, Shimmer quilt, auditioning border fabrics

Here I've finished all 20 blocks. I've moved all the furniture out of the studio, and put it on the floor to "audition" border fabrics. Most of the shimmer quilts I've seen do not have borders, but I wanted to make it a bit bigger so it could be used for a bed quilt.

Robin Atkins, Shimmer quilt, before quilting
This is how it looks all finished, before quilting it, 90 x 74 inches.

Since the throat of my old machine is much too narrow to free-motion quilt a piece this size, I decided to get a professional to quilt it. But first I agonized some about how to do it. At first I thought it would be good to fussy quilt, making flowers in the companion fabric areas and vertical vines with leaves over the focal fabrics. This was my sketch for the idea.

Robin Atkins, Shimmer quilt, tentative quilting design

But then I saw a few quilts done like that, and the fussy quilting looked too busy, competing too much with the shimmer. So finally, I decided on using a double-leaf, free-motion edge-to-edge design. I named my quilt Square Dancers, because of the colorful costumes, movement, and squares.

Now that it's finished, guess what?  I started gathering fabrics for my second shimmer quilt. I want a spring-summer quilt for my bed in softer, lighter colors. It needs to be bigger than the first one, at least 36 blocks, to work on a queen size bed. Here are some of the fabrics I've found so far:

Robin Atkins, focal fabrics for next shimmer quilt

Robin Atkins, focal fabrics for next shimmer quilt

Robin Atkins, focal fabrics for next shimmer quilt

Robin Atkins, focal fabrics for next shimmer quilt

These are mostly designs by Philip Jacobs, one of the Kaffe Fassett Collective designers. I love his colors and designs! I will use other fabrics in my stash, but more than half of the 36 focals will be like these.

It will be fun to try this again, to apply what I've learned on the first one, to try to improve my fabric choices, always with the goal of some shimmer (but not too much) and good flow throughout the quilt. I'll also try to pick up my speed a bit, without sacrificing accuracy in the piecing.

Expect a post about #2 shimmer quilt in a couple of months. Right now, I'm still gathering fabrics.