Monday, November 19, 2012

What I Did in Houston

What I Did Last Houston

Last year I had a chance to go to Salt Lake City for a week to work at Handi Quilter headquarters as an artist in residence. With their best computer operated long arm--the Pro Stitcher on a Fusion--and a team of technicians, I created my first landscape quilt, on that I had wanted to do for years. A 6 x 7 foot all white quilt, it exemplifies my idea of using an old genre for a new statement.

This October as Houston approached, Brenda Groelz of Handi Quilter called to see if I wanted to make another quilt, this time in their booth at the International Quilt Festival in Houston. We quickly made arrangements and I went to work on the files for my next whole-cloth quilt, this one made of indigo blue denim, much like some of the early indigo whole cloth quilts. This one, however, is a brand new pattern, a crowd scene.

I wanted to make a picture of a crowd that I could call "Reception of the Quilter," a big imaginary crowd that would gather when they heard the quilter was coming. I had taken a picture at the tree lighting ceremony in downtown San Francisco last year, a picture I thought would be perfect for the project.

To prepare one of these I first "cut" the picture into a grid of smaller squares in the computer. Then I use a digital pen to trace each square. Finally, I use a digitizing program to convert the drawing to a quilting file that the Pro Stitcher can read. So I ended up taking my quilt design to Houston as 90 blocks on a little USB drive in my pocket.

Assembling the blocks into rows and lining up the rows as they are sewn are big challenges. But I had learned a lot the first time around, so knew some of the important things to consider before I started. First up was thread. I really wanted the machine to work smoothly and uninterrupted throughout the days, so I asked the friendly people at Superior Threads to guide me. They recommended Magnifico quilting thread, which would not only be strong and reliable, but also would give a slight sparkle to the quilting. It looked great against the denim, so I went with it.

It was a little nerve wracking to be working on a new project with equipment I was not exactly a master of, to be in one of the busiest booths in the show with thousands of people looking over my shoulder and to be trying to solve software difficulties in the software I had barely met. Eventually, however, I got the setup rigged and chugging along, so I could actually walk away from it sometimes and let it just keep on sewing my design for me. It was a blast to see the people in the first row to be quilted, figures that looked at first like random lines, but gradually started to resemble faces and bodies. "Look!" people would say, "It's a woman!" and so on. As the crowd grows larger toward the bottom of the design, it becomes much clearer that it is a crowd of people behind a police barricade.

This quilt was a little easier than the first one. The next one will be even easier, I hope, as I learn to handle the software and equipment even better. In any case, it is only because of the great people at Handi Quilter that I have been able to realize my long-standing dream of working with the computerized long arm. I hope I get to do many more.