Adjusting the Contrast

This is another experiment with art quilt techniques.

Roseate Skimmer quiltlet.

Roseate Skimmer quiltlet.

For me, quilts have been a great way to engage people at nature festivals.  They give shy spectators something to start conversations about, and they help me remember my talking points!

My next quilt will show the many species of dragonflies that live in and migrate through our area — I had ten species here this summer, and that’s just the ones I could identify.

It is important to me to portray some basics accurately  — I have seen dragonflies illustrated with their wings issuing neatly from under their abdomens.  (Think about it.  Have you ever seen any creature whose wings were not on their backs???)  At the same time, I don’t want to create stuffy textbookish diagrams, I want the blocks to be fun to look at and to create.

My photo inspiration was a picture from this summer:

Roseate Skimmer

Roseate Skimmer.  Notice all the complicated structures in the back that support the wings.

My technique inspiration was an article Pokey Bolton did in the April/May 2010 Quilting Arts magazine, where she printed a dog outline in black on pink scraps, cut the dog shape out, and then mounted it on a background of blue and green scraps.  I planned a similar contrasting image on scraps, but I thought I would just stitch an outline, and then use Shiva Artist’s Paintstiks® to overlay a contrasting color and make a dragonfly shape pop right off the background.

In Photoshop Elements, I used the filter Stylize/Find Edges to get a simple black line drawing.  I was hoping that the fragments of cloth would evoke the wing facets in the finished piece.

The pattern on sheet of fused scraps.

The pattern on sheet of fused scraps.

The next part was the most fun.  I always thought my sewing machine just wasn’t good at satin stitching, but, turns out it was me!  Kathy York’s article “Versatile Satin Stitch” in the February/March 2010 Quilting Arts was so helpful.  Some of her tips were to use two sheets of stabilizer beneath the stitching, to use a larger needle than normal, and to reduce the top thread tension.  Once I did those things, the stitching went like a dream, even with metallic and rayon threads.

I had so much fun that I surrounded the dragonfly with paisley type shapes, some of them with spiky lines.

The dragonfly was lost in the background, though.  It was just too small to stand out.  I added machine quilting lines to flatten and darken the background, but it didn’t help.  I hoped that coloring the dragonfly red would create needed contrast.

Stitched dragonfly and random satin-stitched shapes, free motion quilted.

There’s a stitched dragonfly in there. Really.

This was my first time to use the Paintstiks.  Joanna at The Snarky Quilter just tried them too, with better results than mine.  I did not enjoy their chunkiness, and I really really hated their smell.  They did cover very smoothly though, and the cloth was flexible after application.

This is a problem.

This does not look like a creature that can fly 60 mph.  It looks like a shoe.  Or something squashed with a shoe.

Now there was some contrast, but not in a good way.  There was no unity of style.  There were a lot of pale blue cloth rectangles with a big dull red waxy blob in the middle.  At this point, I was glad this was just a bunch of scraps.  The appropriate reaction to it was the face my grandson makes:

This captures my feelings toward the piece at this stage.

“Uh, Nana, I’m pretty sure I could color in that dragonfly better.”

I thought darkening the background might provide more contrast, so I went over it with Jacquard Lumiere® paints.  I reworked the dragonfly with the paints too, and they went over the Paintstiks well, but overall they didn’t redeem the dragonfly from his blobby stodgy look.

A paint layer was added.

The wings should look transparent and glistening.

The dragonfly had quickly degenerated.  Let’s recap our stepping stones from “Could Possibly Turn Out to be an Accurate Representation” to “Generic Imagery by Someone who has Never Seen an Actual Dragonfly.”

Stitched outline, looks kind of mosquito-y.

Stitched outline, looks kind of mosquito-y.

Filled in with Paintstiks, looks blobby.

Filled in with Paintstiks, looks blobby.


At least it doesn’t have moth antennae.

White paint with marker to bring back some detail.

White paint with marker to bring back some detail.

I  was walking out to the barn, thinking that I would toss the whole thing, when I thought, “What if I had to save it?  Like, what if it was entered in a show and had to be there tomorrow?”

Two thoughts flashed through my mind – add borders, and cover up the body.

So when I went back, I dug out this cotton and silk piece that I had fused last year.

This was carded fiber.

This was carded fiber that is fused with textile medium, into an unwoven fabric.

It was perfect, but I only had a small piece.  I scanned it into the computer, and digitally stretched and copied it, put a blue transparent layer on top to get another colorway, and printed it onto fabric (June Tailor, Inc. Sew-In Colorfast — I have tried lots of printer fabrics and this is my favorite).

The fused fiber, digitally repeated and ready to print.

The fused fiber, digitally repeated and ready to print.

I cut up the printed strips for the border, and used the real fused fiber piece for the body of the dragonfly.  It still looks generic, (and not that original) but at least now it has enough unity and contrast to suit me.  Sometimes the art wins over the science.