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The Display and Care of Art Quilts

The display and care of art quilts
Image courtesy of the National Quilters Circle

My website once linked to the following article as it is very useful. However, the webpage has since disappeared, which is a shame. Fortunately a very quick visitor to my website was able to send me a copy of the original article. I have reproduced it on this blog so you can continue to apply the information to your quilts.

I have not been able to find the original author to let her know this article is here. If you know how to contact her, or why this article was removed please let me know.

The Display and Care of Art Quilts by April Niino, Penny Nii Quilt Art

This short article is aimed primarily at art quilts, but it applies to any quilts, including antique quilts. However, because of the fragility and the weight of some of the older quilts, additional care needs to be taken.


Quilts should be handled infrequently but when it becomes necessary, wash and dry hands thoroughly before handling – body oils are easily transferred to textiles. It is a good idea to remove any jewelry which could catch on the quilt. Use a large clean surface to work on. In lifting the quilts, support the main body from beneath with both hands.


To hang the quilt, a sleeve is sewn onto the backing using a slip stitch. Many artists will have sewn the sleeve themselves. A curtain road or a ¼″ thick wood slat sealed with shellac or acrylic paint is inserted into the sleeve. The slat may then be nailed to the wall, or it may be hung from the ceiling using monofilament wire. We recommend using a slat so the surface hangs flat. Often a second sleeve is sewn on the bottom of the piece and a slat inserted to give the piece some weight. This will help the piece hang flat and straight.

Heavier quilts may require the use of Velcro strips. The softer half is machine sewn to a piece of cotton fabric ½” wider than the Velcro. The fabric strip is then sewn onto the edges of the quilt back using a slip stitch. Closely staple the hook half of the Velcro to slats sealed with shellac or acrylic paint with rustproof staples, then nail the slats to the wall. Attach the quilt to the slats without stretching the quilt.

Sunlight and Lighting

The worst enemy of any artwork is sunlight. In the case of fiber art, light will not only fade the quilt but will also weaken the fiber. Ultraviolet rays are the most harmful, but using filters on windows and fluorescent fixtures will greatly reduce ultraviolet light. 3M makes a clear film which can be easily glued to glass. Plexiglas UV filters can be inserted between the fluorescent light tubes and the cover. Another option is to enclose the quilt in a UV filtered Plexiglas frame.

If you must light your quilt, the recommended light intensity is 5 foot-candles. The heat from lamps can dry out your quilt causing it to become brittle. Spotlights should not be kept closer then eight feet from the surface of the quilt.


The best way to clean a quilt is by vacuuming. Use a hand held vacuum with low suction and a soft brush attachment. Do not use an attachment with a rotating brush. The best method is to work in a pattern of lifting and pressing. A clean soft paintbrush can be used to lift off more stubborn dust and dirt. Vacuum both sides before storing.


The ideal storage facility is a dark place with good air circulation, and large enough to store the quilts flat. Avoid a room subject to poor ventilation, high humidity or temperature extremes. If the quilt must be folded, fold it with clean sheets, cotton fabric, or crumpled acid free tissue along the folds. This will prevent creasing the quilts. If your quilt is to be stored on a wood shelf, drawer, or box, line it with a layer of heavy duty aluminum This will prevent acid migration from the wood.

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Little Owl Charm from Heather Kingsley-Heath

Beaded Owl - pattern by Heather Kingsley-Heath. Image copyright © Rose Rushbrooke.

Some time ago I was invited by the Devine Ms M to join a local beading group. It’s HAYUGE fun and expands my knowledge and experience in all directions. And when I say all, I mean ‘all’. There’s nothing like a group of women of diverse ages and backgrounds to increase one’s awareness of the world, or of a particular subject.

The Divine Ms M generously gives us all a birthday gift when the moment arises. Last year she gave us our names woven into strips of peyote. I am ashamed to say mine is still ‘on the counter’, as one of my beading companions says. Right now I can spy it on my beading table awaiting its final metamorphosis into a piece of wearable jewelry.

This time around she found a pattern for the most yumalicious little owl pendant designed by Heather Kingsley-Heath. Each of us receives an owl stitched in our favorite colours as a birthday gift. When we saw the first one the rest of the group set up a cacophony of waaaahs. Translated: gimme, gimme, gimme, I WANT, I WANT. So embarrassing.  We loved the little owl.

And apparently I was the whiniest of them all. Oh dear!

But how could I not whine? It’s so cute.

If you want a little owl of your own, head over to Heather’s website and buy the kit. And maybe something else too – there’s a little bird pattern……

Free Owl beading pattern by Rizzo Antonietta.
Free Owl beading pattern by Rizzo Antonietta.

Here’s another little owl pattern if your single owl would like a companion. It’s a free step-by-step photo tutorial in pdf format, by Rizzo Antonietta. It is in Italian but the photos are pretty clear.

Peyote Path Meets a Brick Wall by Marilyn Earhart.
Peyote Path Meets a Brick Wall by Marilyn Earhart

And the Divine Ms M has a book out – Peyote Path Meets a Brick Wall.

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Talking of Hand Quilting

Which I was a few posts ago, I wanted to take this subject a bit further.

Hand quilting tutorials seem to be few and far between on the Internet. At least, those which teach the way I hand quilt. I wanted to offer a collection of links but apparently this is not going to happen.

Mary Stori has a great tutorial posted on Threads Magazine – Perfect your Hand Quilting. I probably like this tutorial because this is exactly how I hand quilt. She recommends the Jean Lyle needles, and the Roxanne thimble.

Another tutorial is a video made by Nancy Ellen. She uses the side of the thimble rather than the tip.

I have 2 Roxanne thimbles but found a lovely silver and garnet thimble at the International Quilt Festival. Made by T J Lane, it is personally fitted to my finger and very pretty.

T J Lane silver garnet thimble
T J Lane silver garnet thimble

This is my go to thimble as it is light but strong. It allows my finger nail to poke out at the tip.

It feels nice on my finger, and it is like a piece of jewelry.

My preference is to push the quilting needle using the side or base of the thimble and there are plenty of dimples to anchor the end while guiding it through the fabric. Balancing the end of the needle at a right angle to the fabric I gently push the tip through until I can feel it with the middle finger underneath. Then I swing back up, press the fabric down so it makes a little hill on top and push the needle through. Classic rocking style. Of course, I have a calloused finger tip after a while….

Detail of Royal Crustacean fractal quilt by Rose Rushbrooke. Image copyright © Rose Rushbrooke.
Detail of Royal Crustacean fractal quilt by Rose Rushbrooke.

This picture is a detail of Royal Crustacean – fractal art quilt. It is hand quilted using variegated quilting cotton which is my mostest favoritest type of thread. Space dyed or variegated thread gives you a lovely extra layer of design and colour on top of the piece.

The look and feel of the hand quilt stitch is unique. In response to my earlier post Barb wrote – “The feel, the texture and the absolute beauty of the hand to fabric art is not even closely comparable to the machine automated result.”

Hear, hear!

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Why I Hand Quilt

When I first joined a quilting Guild, back in 1997, I thought “these people are CURAYZE to spend thousands of hours making lines of tiny stitches. Just to hold some little bits of fabric together? OUT OF THEIR MINDS.”

Me and my sewing machine are perfectly capable of stitching fabric together. After all, I made my own clothes by machine for years while I lived in the West Indies, why stop now? So my first experimental quilts were machine quilted. Very simple straight lines.

Benedictus Nouvelles Variations 1 - quilt by Rose Rushbrooke. Image copyright © Rose Rushbrooke.
Benedictus Nouvelles Variations 1

Here’s a close up of Benedictus’ Nouvelles Variations 1 with machine stitched quarter inch lines. And yes, there is no question I quilted and finished this piece very quickly.

Later I got carried away and learned how to machine stipple and meander and write cursive and make feathers……

Detail 2 Dock Over Moccasin Lake - quilt by Rose Rushbrooke. Image copyright © Rose Rushbrooke.
Detail 2 Dock Over Moccasin Lake

This is a detail of the pictorial quilt Dock Over Moccasin Lake. I designed it at a Ruth McDowell workshop in Paducah. You can see the stippled quilting holding the piece together.

And it needed machine stitching.

Every single piece of this quilt is hand stitched together with a folded over seam. Try and hand quilt and you would have very sore fingers, miserable looking uneven stitches and a fairly lumpy quilt. It makes sense to use a sewing machine on such bulk.

Many art quilts today, and even traditional quilts, are machine stitched. Beautifully.

Silk by Hollis Chatelain
Silk by Hollis Chatelain

Look at this piece created by Hollis Chalelain.

Silk was awarded the 2012 Master Award for Thread Artistry at the IQF in Houston, Texas. This is all machine stitching. It’s quite magnificent. It makes a real statement for using a sewing machine as an art tool.

I did make several quilts using machine quilting. I even bought a short arm quilting frame so I could load and work on larger pieces.

That Perfect Stitch by Roxanne McElroy
That Perfect Stitch by Roxanne McElroy

But I was curious about this hand quilting business and decided to try it out. The guild members helped and a terrific book – That Perfect Stitch by Roxanne McElroy got me really rocking.

The look of the stitches is lovely, and best of all, making the stitches is calming and peaceful. In my world there is no comparison between hand and machine quilting. They are two different animals with different missions in life. If I could be a master machine quilter I would – but it didn’t take.

So I choose to be a master hand quilter and enjoy my beautiful thimbles and calloused fingertips. And now I hand stitch all the art quilts I create.

If you want to have your own copy of That Perfect Stitch by Roxanne McElroy you can get it from Amazon (if you make a purchase I get a little bit of a commission).

Roxanne is no longer with us but her daughter Dierdra McElroy has updated her mother’s book and you can get this from Amazon too (if you make a purchase I get a little bit of a commission): That Perfect Stitch: The Secrets of Fine Hand Quilting by Dierdra A McElroy.

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Beaded Penguin

Beaded penguin - free beading pattern.

When this pattern from Bead and Button showed up I couldn’t resist it. My mother loves penguins – she calls them ‘pingwings’. I made one for her birthday.

The finished beaded penguin is just over one inch high. It has a little tail which means it can be stood up. If you were feeling really silly you could make two and have a pair of ‘pingwing’ earrings. Or make one for a pendant.

They make up really quickly so you can have one finished in an evening.

As I am a quilter I had plenty of batting scraps to fill the body. Fill it firmly so the body stands up straight.

Beaded penguin - free beading pattern.
View 2 of beaded penguin

The instructions are free, they are well written – at least I understood them! And there are diagrams to go with the text. The pattern was designed by Robert Jackson.

Download your beaded penguin pattern from Bead and Button magazine. You do need to be a subscriber to the magazine to download this particular project.

Beaded penguin - free beading pattern.
View 3 of beaded penguin
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How kleptomaniacs effect an artist’s bottom line

Last weekend a group of artists held their regular monthly art show at the train station in Purcellville, Virginia – Loudouns Best. This was the first time I had taken part.

Without fail some thoughtless cretin HAD to steal one of my little Caribbean prints. Now I know a certain percentage of the population is duty bound to ‘lift’ items where ever they go. It’s part of our rich human nature (yeah right).

Theft is not written into any artists business plan. Those people you see manning booths at arts and crafts booths all over the country rely on sales of their hand made items to LIVE. Every time a piece of artwork is stolen those artists eat less and have to produce more. The thief (who incidentally has absolutely no use for the item they have pinched) has gouged off another piece of the artist’s bottom line.


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Juried art shows

Received any rejection letters lately?
Hate getting those nasty thin letters in your mail box? You’ve spent anything from $25 upwards to enter a juried art competition and once again they hate you personally.

The letter goes along the lines of –

“thank you so much for entering your slides into our most important, high end art exhibition. We received three squillion, nine thousand, five hundred and twenty seven entries and it was extremely hard for us to turn down your ecstactically wonderful artwork but … (insert what your brain starts thinking round about now: we thought your work was crap and we will be taking all the fees from the idiots who sent it to us and heading out for a well earned vacation in the Bahamas – ha ha ya boo sucks you naive artist type people!).”

Ever thought about what happens to those fees?
No, they don’t go into the pockets of the money hungry artist succubus. Well, they might in some cases, I can’t generalise there; but most of the time they go towards running costs, publicity, rent etc so the public can see art face to face – YOUR ART.

Why should you be thankful you pay to enter juried shows?
Sometimes it is the only way you can get your artwork out there. If you are struggling to get into a gallery or there is a dearth of local venues, the juried show is a great way to publicise your name.

So you’ve laid out a couple of hundred dollars in a year – that’s perhaps six to eight shows. You get into one of those eight shows.

Can you get good publicity for $200?
Give thanks to all the willing artists who have supported you this time. They got their turn when you didn’t get in.

If we didn’t have juried shows many of us wouldn’t have venues to exhibit our work. So when that rejection letter slaps you in the face send a warm thought to those who did get in – they will be paying for you the next time.

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Do you make these mistakes when buying art?

Do you buy original art for its investment value?

Don’t do this. You should buy art you love; it must give you pleasure every day. If all you can think about is how much the piece might be worth then your soul will shrivel. The hard fact is that most art really doesn’t go up in value. If you happen to be clever enough to have bought an appreciating artist then be glad you didn’t buy their work later on down the road. You are able to enjoy the artwork at a price you can afford.

Do you ask for other people’s opinions?

Don’t ask them. Eventually it’s your own taste that counts. You need to be simpatico with the artist’s vision and enjoy the media, subject matter, and style.

Do you worry about whether artwork is worth the money?

Don’t hyperventilate when you buy a piece under around $600. Think of this. If an artist can produce one piece a week at maximum output and sell it directly to you for $300 – work it out, that’s $15,600 a year. This has to pay for supplies, commissions, postcards and all the other paraphernalia they need to produce a piece. Is it any wonder they are caught in the artist-trap of having to take on another job such as teaching, lecturing, or running a website? So don’t begrudge an artist the measly sum of $2 or $3 hundred dollars for an original piece. It’s worth it if you love it!

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How do you chose which shows to enter work?

Recently this question came up on an art quilt list. It helped me formulate why you do choose certain art/quilt exhibitions to enter work. Here was my answer:

You have to ask yourself several things.

Where are you in your career? Are you an emerging, established, or mature artist?

What do you personally want your artwork to do? Do you want recognition, money, personal satisfaction at being accepted and validated, work shown in catalogues, museum exhibitions, improve your career progress?

You have to decide where your artwork fits. Is it pictorial, abstract, process driven, content driven, a particular school of artwork? Large, medium or small (and even here there is a certain amount of leniency as to what constitutes which.)

How productive are you? Can you sustain several exhibitions or do you make a small number of pieces a year and need to pick and choose where you place this work? How much money have you budgeted each year for marketing and show entry costs? Every entry costs money.

Check out websites. Join fiber art lists such as QuiltArt to get an idea of the shows available and how other fiber artists rate them.

Subcribe to art lists such as, magazines like Art CalendarFiber Art, the Crafts Report etc. They list exhibitions as they become available – usually there is a website where you can download information, other times you have to send for a prospectus.

Once you decide what and where you are as an artist and where you want to go, then you can match up the exhibitions to your work.