29 December 2013

A Book To Consider "World Enough an Time On Creativity and Slowing Down" by Christian McEwen

My book reviews are generally posted on my book blog, Books By The Willow Tree, but I really thought that this particular book deserved to be mentioned here.

My dear friend, Janet, gifted me with this book for the holiday. She could not have chosen a more perfect gift! I began to read it as soon as I opened it and, having the luxury of time alone this Christmas, I spent the best part of the day reading it. It's been an inspiration for me, and I think that many of you might also benefit from reading it. 

Most of the creative people that I know experience times when the muse flees the mental coop, leaving us  brooding  about "what now"?  We wonder if this will be a short hiatus from our internal creative dialog or if, a paralyzing thought, the muse has left us on a more permanent basis? Who are we if not one with our muse? I have personally found that more I give in to these thoughts, the more ludicrous and self-perpetuating these ill-boding fantasies become. I have learned to accept, as benevolently as possible, these fallow times as a gift. A pause, if you will, in my internal need for accomplishment. 

This is an important book! Important for all human beings - not just those of us who aspire to create.

This is a book in which author, poet, teacher, Christian McEwen applauds the pauses, the fallow times, the quiet, and the stillness. The book hails the mindfulness of those who take note of the world around them, who can open their eyes and absorb the sounds that exist even in 'silence'. It gives a nod to slowness and reflection, it provides a relief filled bow to an appreciation for the stillness that can lead us to lead a more healthy, fulfilled life. Indeed, it is these slow times that can leave us more inspired rather than less so. For expressives it goes a long way to clarify why these untilled periods that we all experience in our creative lives, when the muse seems to have taken flight, are actually opportunities to dwell within and reflect, to recharge and to slow down and appreciate what 'is'. 

I had been feeling that I was not producing enough art work and that I should be working faster and more efficiently. In short, I felt that I was floundering just a bit. In the back of my mind I also acknowledged that I seem to be uniquely suited to retirement. I treasure my first morning hours now when I sit and read, taking the time to 'really' read, to makes notes, to study the history books that I enjoy so much. Also, I have a lot of interests and my days are almost never dull. I just kept feeling that I needed to go faster, even though I really did not want to! 

In retrospect I think that those weeks of slight worry were symptomatic of my "monkey mind" at work and also, possibly, a part of the whole internal process of retiring. I do believe that there are stages that one goes through when you leave your work of many years and bid adieu to your 'work family'. It's a loss in a way, and because of that perhaps a bit of mourning comes into play. I was giddy for the first couple of months, giggling to myself over the wee bit of luscious lazy that I continue to luxuriate in each morning as I read away an hour or two. Occasionally, truth be told, I do experience a sporadic bit of fear over the future of my finances, and for me, the occasional, yet insistent thought that I must put forth some additional effort into being more social. Yes, I have to admit that human contact is a necessary thing. Hitherto, my 'work family' filled that social need for me, but now I will have search for that connection a bit further afield. As a true introvert this is not really much an issue for me most of the time.

"World Enough & Time" has become a powerful ally for me. It gives credence to my inner beliefs that 'slow' = 'good', rather than slothfulness. I am savoring my slowness to it's fullest at this point in time. I am at peace with my life as it is and my 'word' for 2014 is going to be 'savor', or if I were to choose a New Year's phrase it might be "savor life in the slow lane".

" World Enough and Time" is available on Amazon, as a book or e-book and, as always, your Indie bookstore would, I am sure, be most happy to provide you with a copy!

28 December 2013

Vintage Gems

A Quick Note:
Due to a huge increase in spam comments (like 50 a day) I had to make a bit of a change. I am not a fan of 'captcha', although I  understand why it must be used.

Before I have to go  the 'captcha' route I am going to try something else first. I will not accept comments from anyone who chooses to be 'anonymous '. Thus far, this has completely eliminated the raft of spam comments, but I hope that it will not deter any of you from leaving a note. 

Comments about this are welcomed!

This post is really about some wonderful little vintage gems that recently came my way.....
36 lovely six inch vintage quilt blocks
I have a continuing love affinity for vintage fabrics and quilt blocks, although in recent years I have not purchased any new ones for my small collection. When I saw this little group of thirty-six six inch squares on Ebay about a month ago though, I simply had to make a bid.... and, as luck would it,  they came to my house.

These blocks are all hand sewn, and I believe that the fabrics, which are in excellent shape, are from the late 30's and early 40's. What I had not anticipated was quite how yellowed with age they were - even though the colors were still vibrant the whites were really yellow, and the hand was almost 'crisp' with age.  I washed them, and although I am sure they were cleaner they were no less yellow and they would have been unusable in that condition. 

I decided to order some "Restoration" fabric soak from Engleside Products.  I have known about this product for many years, but had never found the need to buy it. In my utter haste to try it I neglected to take any "before" photos. Duh! How foolish of me! This stuff is an absolute miracle, and I will be using it for the vintage pillowcases that I use daily as well as for any other vintage cottons that I use. It's astounding what it did for these blocks. They went from very yellow to pristine white in 8 hours with a hand that is now as soft as it once was.
As always with reds - some the color crocked into the white. 
I love collecting vintage fabrics because they are like a library to me. Maybe that's one reason that I tend to love scrap quilts too. They become fabric libraries of the future. I have always been a feed sack fan. I love the cheerful simplicity of the fabrics, and I love the idea that these handy bags were used to bring home products that were always in use. I wish we could still go this route, but I suspect that lawyers and insurance companies would now have a field day with the potential for harm. How did we all mange to survive before the advent of plastics?!
The next three images are of the same block. I was, at first, a bit puzzled at the blue color that I saw in the white square - until I turned the block over and noticed that the maker had changed from white thread to a very dark blue thread! My! How thread manufacturing has improved over the years!
Close up of the white and dark blue thread that caused the color run on the top
This dark fabric, and it is only one block worth of it, is probably my favorite of the bunch although I also think that it is one of the more modern fabrics in the blocks. There was no color running, and it looks so crisp and lovely!

Isn't this a cheerful print?! I have two of these little gems
This block is such a perfect example of the era.
Cheerful, colorful, simple! It IS a bit whiter than image 
Vintage stripes anyone?!
This is another of my favorite blocks.
Again, I think that it is one of the more modern fabrics in the lot, but it makes me happy.
I wish I had more of this fabric. It's cheerful, colorful and redolent of the times!
I have no immediate plans for using these thirty-six blocks. They have been washed, and trimmed and they will be safely stored until I have a bigger vision for them. I think that they might work well with some of my hoard of vintage Dresden Plates perhaps. Now, we'll see if I can continue to stay away from EBay! Now that I have discovered the wonders of Engleside Restoration soak I may well be tempted by some things that in the past I might have overlooked!
Small, pretty stitches all in a row
that have survived all of these years.

20 December 2013

Cloth Paper Scissors Submission Printed

I am trying to become better at "tooting my own horn". It does not come easily to me. 

My FaceBook friends have seen this already, but I wanted to share this news here too.  This is a teeny tiny accomplishment in the general scheme of things in life, but it does encourage me to keep 'putting my work 'out there' (wherever 'there' really is). 

Some time ago I took heart in hand and entered a six inch Mixed Media Square to Cloth Paper Scissors for consideration. They had me send the piece in to them for further consideration, but that was the last I had heard. Until today when I got the Current issue in the mail! Right there on page 73! I am continually astounded at the creativity level of people in these challenges, and I am honored to have been chosen as well.

In the past, I have been blessed to have quilts included at Houston Quilt Festival Special Exhibits, and I was thrilled to be published in the Journal Quilt Project Book, but this is the first mixed media piece that I have 'adventured' into submitting anywhere. Just when I am considering not doing much mixed media any more!

I needed a wee lift today, and I sure got it. Thank you Cloth Paper Scissors!

15 December 2013

Threads and Fibers

I keep noticing that many people are posting self portraits, either to FaceBook, Twitter or on their blogs. I truly dislike looking at photos of myself, and yet I also see the benefit of having some idea of what a person likes like - especially if you are  kind enough to be following their blog or posts. So I took heart in hand and took a 'selfie' yesterday, without realizing that 1) I had not combed my hair and 2) I had no make up on. So this is a real WYSIWYG. It gives you an idea complete with wrinkles, or as friends on Facebook put it, laugh lines!

My days have been spent with some quilting, and that feels mighty fine! The quilt above is coming along well, although I don't do too much on it in any day. I am trying to go slowly. You may remember this from September when I started making the blacks from 5" sample square of batiks that I had collected over the years and could not bear to part with during my fabric purge. Each block uses two squares; one for the cross and one for the body. I really did have a lot of these squares! I like the 1/4" border a lot, but it definitely shows each and every wrong stitch and mismatched seam! Because the border is so small I still have to be careful to line up the crosses just right, or the quilt would  look even extra, wonky. I had started it on one machine that I needed to calibrate a true 1/4" seam with and then switched to a different machine that has a programmed perfect 1/4 inch seam setting. The first section of the quilt is most imperfect, but I simply cannot bear to rip it all out!  I am hoping that by the time it is all together, with most of it being quite right, and it is quilted the mistakes will not prove to be as obvious. It is, after all, just a smaller, "feel good" quilt, but I really like it a lot!
The quilts that I like to sleep under are very different than the art quilts that I make. I tend to like to sleep under traditional quilts made with reproduction fabrics. I find them to be very calming and comfortable.

These 25 patch blocks were to be the beginning of a very traditional quilt called Amelies's Story, Many Blessings by Darlene Zimmerman. I had posted about this quilt last April when I was working on it at quilt camp on Vashon Island. I ended up finding that I really was tired of making 25 patch blocks. They had to line up, be cut and pieced perfectly etc etc. I tend to like a bit more freedom. The Pixi of Imperfetion bit me !
Lest you think that there is no Pixie of Imperfection here she is all of her glory!
 I made her as testament to the benefits on imperfection!

Back to my dilemma of 25 patch malaise!  DH mentioned that a friend of his was retiring in March and, shall I say, strongly, hinted that he would like to give him a quilt in honor of the occasion. That's easy for him to want of course, another matter for me to make! I suggested a nice sized sofa quilt. In reply I received a vigorous head shake (indicating an equally vigorous negative) in response. A bed quilt was what he was asking me to do. Just ask me if I felt enthusiastic over it! I wanted to begin an ART quilt series that I had recently been inspired to begin - not a bed sized quilt. 
Of course, I was raised to do "guilt" quite well. It's been one of the banes of my existence for as long as I can remember. As I pondered how I would convince DH that a sofa quilt really could be used on a bed, I started to think about those blasted 25 patch blocks. The question was what could I do to use what I had already made and make something that would look good too.

 I considered a truly wonky block, but somehow that just was not the right path to take with these oh! so traditional blacks. There was, however, another way to proceed and that's what I am doing. The blocks will be set on point. I'll be adding sashing and cornerstones. Quilting will add a lot of dimension to the open spaces that setting blocks will leave in their wake, and I think that I have enough 25 patch blocks already done to make it work out quite painlessly. At worst I may have to make another 5 blocks or so. Not bad. I'll be making DH happy, saving a lot of work on blocks that would never have been used otherwise. I should be able to start working on my art quilts soon then too!
Auditioning possible backgrounds
Of course, there is always something on my needles too. Since I discovered knitting I have never turned back.  This is a 'challenge' shawl, made using only Sunshine brand yarn, it needs to be done by the 25th. I had the yarn for the body of the shawl (First Light) on hand, but I did have to beg and buy some more of the charcoal color which will be lace a deep lace edge that i am finally beginning now. I'll actually make the deadline for it too. 
This pattern is called Xenia by Vanessa Smith and it offers a unique - at least to me - way of making a stripe. The stripe turns it to be more textural than separate stripe. You add a stitch to each knit stitch on one row and then knit two together through the back on the next row - it results is a great slant-wise stripe that looks as good on the back as it does on the front.

This week I am wrapping and mailing off gifts. What's on your holiday to do list?
Be well and spread joy!

05 December 2013

Sifting, Sewing and Knitting

I have been spending this pre holiday season sewing and knitting. It has been delightful! I feel as though another circle is turning. My love of things sewing and quilts seems to have returned to me in spades, and it feels darn good! I'm never quite sure why my attentions turns one way, or another, but I do know that I seem to follow in circles. Pendulums always swing, I just never know when they will
This is a FO (finished object). I had been [lanning to make this for about a year, and I am thrilled that it is done, looks divine and that I learned something from the pattern. The pattern is called Autumn Blush and it is designed by Joji Locatelli. AS I think I mentioned in an earlier post the yarn is from Sundara and is 50%silk and 50% merino. Lush and soft!

I have been sewing a lot. These are a few of the pouches that I've made for gifts. Simple, easy and, I think, they look good too. I had so much fun making such a simple thing! Plus, I did not have to buy anything! I've made a lot of other things too and will post some images before they are shipped off. 
 I've been working on the quilt that I began in September, and have made a couple of small felted bags too. Two lager quilt projects are in the mental works and I feel all set to sew, and then sew more. Hooray for cycles!

My friend, Karen Musgrave, recently wrote a post about the 'weeding' that she has been doing. Of course, it got me to thinking. I did such a vast amount of sifting, sorting and divesting this summer that I had not given it too much thought, but I too have been doing another sort of 'divesting' (or as Karen calls it 'weeding'). I find that my time is too precious to waste and so I have had really had to think long and hard about where I want to expend my energy. My answer to self is:  sewing, reading and knitting. Mixed media is a part of me and is something that I will never give up thoroughly, but it will take a back seat to sewing and knitting. With huge binders filled to over-flowing with ATC's and Post Cards I do not plan to do many exchanges any more. They were taking up a lot of time. I still plan to do a few small art exchanges, but not to the extent that I was. 
For the upcoming year I hope to spend more time doing things that I enjoy with friends. Now that I am not working I really do find that I need at least SOME contact with people. I always feel much better after an afternoon spent with gal pals.

Another place that I will be not be spending as much time as I had been is on the computer. I simply cannot believe how much time I end up being online. You know how one things always leads to another - and another from there. Hours can literally fly by without one realizing that the time has slipped by. I can never say "no!", but I am going to try to limit the amount of time I spend on my "magic boxes". I truly do believe in the "everything in moderation" philosophy, and that's the balance that I hope to find in the coming comes.

What about you? Have you done any of your sifting, sorting or weeding this year? Do you find that your interests run in cycles? Do you have plans to divest anything in the coming year? How to manage to "do it all" and still have enough time? Tell me ! I need all of the hints I can get!

24 November 2013

The Winner of Sarah Ann Smith's DVD

Thanks to the randomizer at Random-ize.com 
I am happy to announce that the 
winner of Sarah's latest DVD is:


Thank you to everyone who entered!
I wish that each of you had been able to win!
I am planning to add some more small give-aways soon.

SALLY, Sarah will be getting in touch with you to make arrangements. 
please check the email that you have connected to your blog 
since that's the one I forwarded to Sarah

18 November 2013

New Textural Knit Projects

This is Sundara Aran Silky Merino yarn in "Autumn Leaves". It's the ultimate in a luxury yarn with 50% merino and 50% silk in the blend.  The pattern is called "Autumn Blush" by Joji Locatelli

I have been thinking a lot about what shape the next phase of my artistic life should take. I have come to accept that I need to focus more on one, or maybe two things. That leaves me in a bit of a quandary. What do I not do? I have decided that sewing and knitting are my "have-to-dos", so I am not sure where that will leave mixed media. I know that I will continue to do some but maybe not as much.  I can't "do it all" anymore as much as I would like to think that I can. I posed some 'choice' questions at the bottom of this post if anyone cares to help me with their answers!

My friend, Sarah, recently teased me that she had a difficult time locating anything 'quilt-y' on my blog, and she said that she had to go back a ways to find any quilts. She wrote a blushingly complimentary post about me when I did my give-away post for her new DVD. I have to admit that she is right, which led me, in part, to my ruminations about the future. I have, you see, become very addicted to knitting. My knitting addiction, I should mention, is a direct result of Sarah's influence. I did not know how to knit until she moved from where I live to Maine and I was more or less forced into teaching myself to knit. 
I started both of these projects in the last month, and the knitting has become obsessive. 
I'm  close to finishing both of these luscious shawls.

This shawl is a project that I had wanted to knit for some time, and I finally started it on 12 November. I'm a bit more than half way through now. Sundara graciously dyed up some more of this color.  This pattern calls for  Sundara Aran Silky Merino blend, as noted above. It's what was specified in the pattern, and I fell in love with it just as it was pictured, which is somewhat unusual for since I generally like to mix it up and seldom use the specified yarn in a pattern. 

My LYS, Island Wools, is where I generally prefer to spend my knitting dollars. Julie at Island Wools carries Madeline Tosh and Malabrigo which are two of my most favorite yarn brands, so I have little need to wander to far afield when the lust for a new skein hits. These projects, however, called for new yarn experiences.
The textures in this pattern are a delight to knit and the yarn just makes it that much more special. I love the feel of the yarn and the developing pattern as I knit, and often just run my hands over the shawls lush surface. I have not quite finished the shawl yet, and so these images are not of a blocked and finished product, but it will be awesome when it's done . I just could not wait to share it ! This project has given me the chance to brush up on my short row theory and the double moss stitch. Divine. I swoon over this shawl!
The next project is the very first mystery anything that I have ever done. I never much liked making mystery quilts. Generally I found myself disappointed in the resulting quilts.

I have been equally hesitant to do a mystery knit, but I knew Jen Lucas' book, Sock Yarn Shawls, so I figured that I would, most likely, like the finished project. I hedged my bets, and it was a good bet! You can find more of Jen Lucas's patterns on Ravelry of course! This pattern will be for sale soon
Another yarn that I had heard a lot about was Wollmeise Merino Superwash. It's not too easy to find here in the US( it's made in Germany), but Ravlry users were a Godsend and I was able to buy a skein from a fellow Raveler. This color, which is one of the best greens I've seen, is called Spinaci, and I want to buy another just to have on hand. It provides wonderful stitch definition, and I think that it really shows up well in this pattern. I have not quite figured out all of the ins and outs of Wollmeise brand yarns, and which types are what, but I like it well enough to want another few skeins in my stash - maybe just of this type since it suits the things that I like to knit so well.

This is also not a finished project yet, so it has not been properly clocked, but I think it's obvious how nice the patterning is, and I am eager to get the last clue next week so that I can finish it! The first clue came out on November first, and I have been anxious to get the next one with every passing week. The final clue is published on 22 November.

One thing that I have found about myself is that I like to knit with really nice yarn. If I don't like the yarn, or the color of the yarn, I don't enjoy the knitting quite as well. I have been trying to knit out of my color box and have been enjoying knitting with colors that I might not have chosen in the past (that means blues and purples and a few brighter colors).

I also am finding a true delight in my sewing and quilting again and have been spending many hours making gifts for the holidays. It feels so good to return to thread and cloth. I have not missed any of the 18 bags of fabric that I donated earlier this year during my sift, sort and divest phase, but I am thoroughly enjoying the cloth that I kept (along with a few recent additions of course)!

My knitting and yarn stash is smaller than some perhaps, but I now will wait until I can get the yarns I want so that I can enjoy every minute of the making. I love to feel the stitches develop under my fingers, I love the juxtaposition of yarn with stitch, and I love running my hands along the surface of my projects. I guess that means that when I gift a knit it comes with a lot of my soul knit into it. I hope that the people to whom I have given my knits love them and use them well. That's what they are made for, a little extra warmth, literally as well as figuratively, on a cold day.

Sarah is right, there are more knits and mixed media things on my blog now, but I have found a lot of pleasure and growth in them. One thing that I know is that  I will never stop knitting now - it's one of life's great pleasures!

Have you ever had to choose between committing to one thing over another ? (in terms of art making)

How did you make your choices?

Do you have any favorite knit patterns? Any shawls, gloves, hats or scarves that I should know about?What are your favorite things about knitting? (if you knit that is) Do you prefer wood to metal needles? Do you prefer one weight of yarn over another?

17 November 2013

Simple Pleasure For Simple Minds. A Laundry Product as Art Supply!

Simple things tend to please me. I am especially fond of happenstance, and this is what these are an example of! While I was at our quilt retreat this pat September, someone mentioned "Shout Brand Color Catchers". Since one of us needed to prewash some red fabric we all tramped to the local grocery store and we each bought a box of these little gems. I had never heard of them, but now I am looking for a larger box of them!

First of all they really work in your laundry, as these used sheets testify, there really is a lot of dye floating around i the wash water of many loads of laundry. It was bated breath that I timidly added one of these to a load of laundry that held my favorite lime and pink pajamas along with some blacks. Eureka! All came out of the wash just fine, no dulling of my perfect lime green was evident!

These darn things make laundry almost fun to do these days, and I have been unable to toss any of these sheets away because  of the sometimes fascinating patterns that I get on them. I'm planning on an art project that will use them. They really do look like hand dyed cloth! The 'treated cellulose sheet' is the weight of nice thick paper. They can be "over-dyed" too with some interesting effects. It's hit or miss, but as you can see the results are intriguing, and they are unpredictable as well. Fascinating, simple pleasures for simple minds! I have not yet ironed these, but they react pretty much like a cotton, or paper - so they can be ironed easily.
I'm really looking forward to making something out of these. Of course, I'll post the results when it's done. Have you used these? What have you thought about them and have you also kept any of them?

15 November 2013

Sarah Ann Smith's DVD Art Quilt Design From Photo To Threadwork

This is your opportunity to win a copy of my friend, Sarah Ann Smith's new DVD!
Keep reading to find out how!

Sarah and I became fast friends when she lived here in the Great Pacific Northwest, before she became the famous quilt artist that she now is! We both are "what if" kind of people and we used to love to play together. Traveling, experimenting with new things and new methods. It was a sweet time in my life, and she has become a 'forever friend' no matter how far the distance or how famous she becomes! She has always been a personal cheerleader for me, and I am constantly amazed at what an inquisitive, 'how-to-do-it', kind of mind she has. I used to watch her mull over a concept. You could see the focus and watch the gears turning, and her solutions were /are always well thought out as well as beautifully executed..
I imagine that many of you are already familiar with Sarah's book, which I find to be a very valuable. It's a fine example of her Sarah's mind works, detail oriented, perfect, well planned instructions. If you have not seen it, or don't own it, you really should check it out!

Her DVD, "Art Quilt Design From Photo To Threadwork" is much the same, beautifully planned, well though out, with clear, concise directions. 

The DVD is a step-by-step walk through Sarah's design process. She takes you through the process of transforming a photo into a quilt. She goes through how to choose the right fabrics,  how to make templates for the design, how to select and use the perfect threads to make your quilt sing (of course given the title of her book!)

I should perhaps mention that Sarah is also the reason for my addiction to knitting. In my prior life I was a weaver and a spinner, but I had never even considered learning to knit during that time. Before she moved to Maine, Sarah had knit and felted, and gifted to me,  what I call "the cure for cold feet". In reality they are a felted knit bootie pattern from Cat Bordhi. I have not suffered form cold feet since I received this gift. 

Over the years several people, including Sarah, attempted to teach me to knit. It all seemed like Greek to me, and none of it ever made sense. When Sarah moved, however, and her"cold feet protection" wore out I realized that I had to teach myself to knit. I bought a beginner's pamphlet and began to teach myself how to make those wonderful booties! I made six pairs, giving some as gifts. I remember that at one point DH said that "I should stick to what I know how to do" (quilting), in response to my frustration at one point. Of course, that was just what I needed to hear to get me to figure it all out! I've never stopped knitting since then and the more I know about knitting, the more I love to knit. I now knit as much as I quilt - if not more lately! I owe it all to Sarah and her felted booties! 

One lucky person will win a copy of Sarah's wonderful, informative DVD please leave a comment on this post by Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

Make sure to leave me a way to contact you!

If you are a US resident you will have the opportunity to choose a DVD or DVD download (which is what I did, and it works wonderfully!). It's always right there on my computer, ready to open and enjoy!

If the winner is a non-US resident they will receive the DVD download

Sarah did a blog post about here DVD  HERE
She also did a blog post about our friendship. It's HERE

There are more chances to win on these wonderful blogs:

November 16:     Brenda Gael Smith   http://serendipitypatchwork.com.au/blog/
November  19:    Jaye Lapachet    http://artquiltmaker.com/blog/
November 21:     Susan Brubaker Knapp   http://wwwbluemoonriver.blogspot.com/
November 23:     Lisa Walton    http://www.fibreinspirations.blogspot.com/
November 26:     Daphne Greig   http://daphnegreig.blogspot.com/
November 28:     Sarah Ann Smith     Yep--it is US Thanksgiving that day…I'll write mine up in advance!  Or maybe I should do mine on Black Friday (the beginning of the holiday shopping season the day after…)

03 November 2013

Fabric Stiffeners and Hardeners For All Occasions Plus A Recipe For Home Made Starch Alternative

I have had to become better acquainted with various ways to harden, stiffen or prevent fraying in cloth lately. It has been an enlightening journey, and I thought that I would pass it along the lessons that I have learned about a variety of excellent products that suit any need to 'tame' fabric for a variety of reasons. 

Fray Check. Who among us has not used this ubiquitous little potion over the years? It works like a charm to 'glue' up those raw edges on some of the most beautiful fabrics I use; ensuring that I can sew the fabric without fear of endless unraveling. This product has remained a favorite since I first discovered it many years ago. The only change that I think Prym/Dritz has made to it over the years is a finer application tip.

I have re-discovered my admiration for this product as I was making a holiday gift from some beautiful cotton that was especially prone to fraying! I have also recently learned that Fray Check can be removed with rubbing alcohol. If needed, soak the area in full strength alcohol for 30 minutes. Caution though. because alcohol can change the color of a fabric - test it fist! The product is non-flammable when it is dry, but flammable while it is wet. In much the same way, it is non-toxic when dried, but toxic when wet. Fray Check is made from a nylon plastic in an alcohol base, which is also why alcohol will dissolve it. 

One of my newest favorite textile hardener is called Fabri-Glaze and it is made by Innovative Craft Products. The company had, most graciously, sent my a jar to try, and I finally needed something just like it the other day - so try it I did! And I like it I did! When you open the jar it looks like a generic white glue. 

It is non-toxic, super fast drying, and it is water soluble which makes cleaning up a breeze. 

I wanted to harden a piece of fabric to use in a mixed media project. I did not want to use a simple starch because I wanted something more durable - something that would be easy to cut and react more like paper than cloth. 

I thinned the Fabri-Glaze just a bit and liberally applied it to my fabric 
with a foam brush, and then allowed it to dry completely. I was especially hoping
 that there would be no loose threads left after I cut the fabric.
As you can see, Fabri-Glaze dried perfectly clear with a perfect matte finish. No brush strokes were visible - which is exactly what I had been hoping for ! The fabric did not have any visible hanging threads or unruly threads after it was cut! 

Fabri-Glaze is the hardest of all of the stiffeners/hardeners that I had tried. You can adjust the stiffness with water as I did, but you can effect a hard shell or create a softer result as desired. You can mold fabric easily into a bowl shape or vessel with this amazing stuff. 

Yes, Fabri-Glaze has earned a permanent place on my bulging shelves!

What I believe is the latest thing on the market in this particular fabric hardening/stiffening/fray checking category is water soluble and called Terial Magic. I happened upon it at our local craft's supply store, Creative Passions. Terial Magic is touted as being a low, or no, fray fabric treatment, and I agree with that statement.

It was originally developed for fabric flower making. It obviously has other applications as well. You spray your fabric to soak with Terial Magic, air dry and then iron. You are encouraged to thoroughly soak the fabric with the product.

I consider this product to be a heavy starch, somewhere between spray sizing and the much harder coat of Fabri-Glaze. I like it, but think that it is a tad pricy at $14.95 for 24 ounces. I have not yet compared it to what one or two coats of regular spray starch. Nor have I compared it to bottled starch that I buy and can make as light or stiff as I need to with water. I'm glad that I bought it, and I will be using it, but I want to experiment with using it more and compare it to other, perhaps less expensive options.  

Which brings me to my latest search. 

In September I bought my first bottle of Mary Ellen's Best Press Starch Alternative to try. Always the skeptic, I wondered what, exactly, made Mary Ellen's the best and also what made it a starch alternative? Did I even know that there were starch alternatives other than, perhaps, sizing as opposed to regular starch. My education was beginning!

I searched on line for a list of the ingredients in Mary Ellen's Best Press. Needless to say, I could not find any information about the ingredients, and, it seemed, that others had also been wondering the same thing. I paged through volumes of forum posts and many blog posts looking for an answer. No one knows, it seems, what, exactly is in Mary Ellen's Best Press. The nagging question remained. What made it an alternative to starch?! I like using Mary Ellen's Best Press Starch alternative, but why do I like better than my regular starch?

I like this product enough that I was looking into buying a gallon refill for my bottle when I started to wonder if I could make my very own starch alternative that I would like as well. I was still 'hung-up' on what made this an alternative to starch, and what was in it that made it different. I kept reading and searching.
Voila! The answer! Potato Vodka!
 Huh?  Although I don't drink anything alcoholic anymore thanks to the potential for some adverse medication reactions, I was delighted to learn that there was another use for what had once been a favorite drink. After more "web wading" and researching a variety of helpful recipes and hints for starch alternatives, I found the following recipe which I think it is the easiest as well as the best:

I thank ExScapes blog for this recipe and her own inspiring article that helped me in my own search.

8 OZ (1cup) water - I used distilled
1 ounce (shot) potato vodka
spray bottle to put it in!

The key to making this best possible alternative is to use potato vodka

Mixed grain vodkas work too, but not as well.

Of course, for some odd reason, I had always presumed that vodka was, necessarily, made from potatoes. Since I had last been in our single, local, liquor store things had changed and been moved around, but I found the vodka. I was looking for a small, one pint, bottle, thinking that if this worked as well as I had hoped I would, I could make use of a pint. Big surprise! There was only ONE brand of potato vodka on the shelves - a large bottle at that - of the brand shown above, Chopin Vodka.  The others were all made from mixed grains.

The clerk was of no help what-so-ever. I think that he thought that I was on the lunatic fringe when I mentioned that I did not want to actually drink the vodka, but that  I wanted to use it on fabric! He just went about his business and tried to avoid the crazy woman in his store (me).  I was about to give up hope, but tried riffling though the mini bottles that were is metal baskets  towards the front of the store. I unearthed ONE single mini bottle of Glacier brand potato vodka. This mini was $5.00 for 50ml (1.69 ounces). I snapped it up.

I am, indeed, happy to report, that my experiments with potato vodka do, in fact, work! It really is an alternative to regular starch! The starch from the potato vodka provides a nice crispness. I wonder if this is what Mary Ellen's uses? I would never in a million years have thought to try using potato vodka as starch! Amazing. 

My next step  will be some experiments to add essential oils for scent. Mary Ellen's offers many scents in her starch - which sounds like a good thing to me. I want to experiment with some scent blends. Some oils will not be suitable of course. Perhaps fragrance blends , such as I use for my soaps, would be a bit better? I dunno yet, but I will and will keep you posted.