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.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Finished "Chicks" Quilt (Sue Spargo Wool Applique)

A week of finishing!!! Oh my, it feels good to finish things, doesn't it?!

Robin Atkins, chicks, wool applique, bead and thread embroidery, finished wall quilt

Last October, I started the applique process, stitching chick bodies and wings cut from felled wool onto the wool background fabric. Seven months later, 16 chicks, embroidered with threads and beads, run free! Please click the picture to enlarge it, so you can enjoy the fanciful details.

If you are new to this process, you can see the various steps and pictures of the chicks on these posts. Of course, they are inspired by Sue Spargo's exhibit at the La Conner Quilt Museum, by her book, Creative Stitching, and by taking a one-day class from her to get me going. Along the way, other books, embroideries, and drawings also inspired me.

Robin Atkins, chicks, wool applique, bead and thread embroidery

As you might guess, most of the chicks have at least a few beads. Here is one with the main motif embroidered with beads.

Robin Atkins, chicks, wool applique, bead and thread embroidery

And, here is one with just a few beads, the center of the "flowers," and one with no beads at all.

Also note that I've quilted the piece with Danish Flower Thread in a shade which closely matches the background color.

At first, I thought it would be pleasing to embellish the areas between the chicks with flowers, vines, and leaves using three close shades of the background color. Here is an example.

Robin Atkins, chicks, wool applique, bead and thread embroidery, hand quilting

It looks OK when you look at just four chicks with the flower/vine motif in the center. But when I had finished 6 of the areas (sorry no photo), some of them with larger spaces and larger vines/leaves, it looked too busy. It took away from the chicks. I couldn't tell if I was supposed to look at the chicks or the flowers. So I picked out the vines and leaves, leaving just the flowers, which weren't such a distraction.

Robin Atkins, chicks, wool applique, bead and thread embroidery, binding

After sewing on the binding, the chicks seemed to need a little warming around them. So I added a line of stem stitch in variegated pearl-cotton in a magenta color. It pleases me!

wall mount display case

Oh, and one more thing... This is a quilt, designed to hang on the wall, with lots of details to enjoy as you view it up close. But what happens to wool felt when it is out in the open? MOTH DAMAGE and DUST are the enemies. My solution? Find, buy, or have somebody make a wall-mounted display case, with a hinged door. Hang the quilt inside the case, which remains closed except when somebody wants to take a closer look. The above, found on the internet, is close to what I have in mind, with a white background of course.

Robin Atkins, wool applique ready to embellish with bead and thread embroidery

What's next in chick-land? Well, my dear niece just got married... Here is the start of her wedding gift... I'll post a finished photo soon.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Exhibition of my Beadwork!

Robin Atkins bringing beadwork to La Conner Quilt & Textile Museum for exhibition
Bringing my beadwork to the Museum
Many, many moons ago, when I first started beading, I made an important decision about my future beading career. I decided not to be in the business of selling my beadwork. That’s a huge and somewhat uncommon decision for an artist, because most feel that in order to justify the time it takes to do beadwork and the cost of materials, it has to be sold. Many also take sales of their work as a marker of their skill as an artist… “if it sells, then I am an artist; if I sell lots of it, then I am a successful artist; if a gallery takes my work, then my work is good,” etc.

Pre-opening demonstration of bead embroidery process by Robin Atkins, with Becki Applegate and Christy Hinkle
Demonstration prior to the Opening on April 1st.
Robin Atkins with a visitor at the opening of Beadlust exhibition

Robin Atkins - Beadlust, exhibition at La Conner Quilt Musuem - Opening reception
My dear friend, Liz, drove to La Conner for the opening!
Those are tempting thoughts, aren’t they?! However, I had previously been a metalsmith, making one-of-a-kind silver and gold jewelry for 5 years. During those years, I experimented with various methods of selling my jewelry – craft fairs, home shows, commissions, galleries – and found that I hated all of them. Marketing my work, talking about it, looking in people’s eyes as they walked by my booth without stopping, answering questions about how I made something, knowing the person asking was also a metalsmith and might copy my ideas – all of that was like a millstone around my neck, depressing, daunting, and no fun at all.

Beadlust - exhibition of Robin Atkins bead embroidery at La Conner Quilt Textile Museum

So, when beadlust jumped in my heart, I almost immediately decided I would not sell my work. Instead, I would make my living by selling beads and beading supplies, teaching others how to bead, and writing books about beading. It’s been a great pathway for me, almost always fun, challenging, exciting – and, it has paid my bills and given me the means for many beady adventures. To be sure, I have sold some of my beadwork, especially jewelry, here and there. But it’s always when opportunity comes to me, not when I’ve struggled to be accepted for a show.

Beadlust - exhibition of Robin Atkins bead embroidery at La Conner Quilt Textile Museum

Twenty-seven years later, I am looking back down my beaded pathway with great satisfaction, pleased as punch about my initial decision. Twenty-seven years later, I also own a substantial stash of beaded objects that I’ve made over the years – beaded jewelry, bags, books, dolls, wall art, sculptures, and quilts. While many of them decorate my studio and home, some live in boxes, stored away in cabinets. I feel a bit guilty about those poor babies. Shouldn’t I get them out, brush the dust off, and sell them? Oh yeah, I forgot, I hate selling/promoting my beadwork.

Beadlust - exhibition of Robin Atkins bead embroidery at La Conner Quilt Textile Museum

All of the above is to introduce a fabulous and unexpected opportunity that came my way recently… The curator of the La Conner Quilt & TextileMuseum contacted me to ask if I would be willing to exhibit my beaded quilts and other beadwork in a one person show at the museum for the month of April, 2015. WOW! Would I be interested? You bet I would!!!!

Beadlust - exhibition of Robin Atkins bead embroidery at La Conner Quilt Textile Museum

Twenty-eight pieces! Once I cleared the pieces for the show out of my studio, the nearly empty walls and display counter was depressing. Guess what happened?  I opened up those boxes, and brought out things I hadn’t ever displayed, or at least hadn’t displayed for a long time. What great fun to see them every day this past month! I love it!

Beadlust - exhibition of Robin Atkins bead embroidery at La Conner Quilt Textile Museum

Beadlust - exhibition of Robin Atkins bead embroidery at La Conner Quilt Textile Museum

Beadlust - exhibition of Robin Atkins bead embroidery at La Conner Quilt Textile Museum

Beadlust - exhibition of Robin Atkins bead embroidery at La Conner Quilt Textile Museum

Two days ago the show closed (waaa), and my work is back home again. Here it is, all piled up on my studio tables. Nice to have it home; not so nice to decide which pieces go back into boxes.

Robin Atkins studio - Beadlust exhibition closed, beadwork back home
Exhibition closed - beadwork back home again
And then there is the question of what is to become of it in the long run. I am 72 years old. It might be time to start thinking about that. Some will go to my beady friends, and some to my nieces and nephews (if they want it). And, I’d die happy if I knew that some of the best pieces were in the permanent collection of a museum or two. Rosie, The Uncaged Hen, for example should be in a museum, don’t you think?

bead emroidery by Robin Atkins - Rosie The Uncaged Hen
Rosie, The Uncaged Hen
Having the show in La Conner, seeing my work so beautifully displayed there, gives me the energy to start thinking about the future of my beadwork, to make a list of my all the pieces, place an "insurance value" on them, and start talking to acquisition curators about it. Although the idea of this task seems a little like “selling my work,” the show in La Conner makes it worth the effort.

La Conner Quilt & Textile Museum, photo by Robert Demar
La Conner Quilt & Textile Museum