What is your favorite applique method?
Apliquick is my absolute favorite for smaller or more complex shapes (like little birds). We carry these tools in our on-line store. Watch the video link below.
I use UNIT appliqué for everything. Each pictorial object is made as a unit, i.e. rocks, birds, trees, etc. These are sewn together in small sections. Sections are sewn to surrounding sections until an entire quit top is born.
Your quilts have a lot of detail and wonderful surprises to catch the viewer's eye. Can you explain the process you go through when designing one of your quilts?
Hiding little details for the viewer to discover is like a game for me. It helps me to while away the 400-800 hours I spend on each quilt. It is all about story telling and love of nature for me. My quilts are photo realistic in style with a bit of a fantasy twist. Design is one of my favorite classes to teach. After factoring in basic design principles, I start by making all the major characters as free objects. Then, secondary objects of interest are considered, and finally the back ground or set design. I try to include as many details as I can to enhance each object or area. I then applique characters to their surrounding objects and build bigger and bigger sections. I do not use a muslin background. Just sections to sections like piecers adding more blocks or sashing.
Hand embroidery, machine embroidery, thread work, 3 dimensional thread objects, Yarns, trapunto and shadow trapunto. A lot of these techniques and special effects are covered in my Natural Wonders DVD. I love, love, love my paint crayons; for shading, adding details, and changing colors of great prints. See demonstration video in web store - paints.
I do - always in the foreground though. They tend to wreck havoc with any depth I have created when used in the back ground. Beading, 3 dimensional thread sculptured branches, trees, dragon flies, etc. are wonderful additions. My DVD's have a mini workshop on creating three dimensional thread sculptures. This technique is wonderful for trees, branches, bushes, surf, lace like flowers, etc. The Jelly Fish and above Sea Fans were made with this technique.
I use the layered applique method. My quilts usually have over a thousand pieces hand appliqued together. Each piece creates a shadow, high light, or helps to define the form, much like an individual brush stroke. Sometimes I trim up the back if it is getting too thick, sometimes I don't. Hand Quilting through all those layers would be hard on my already challenged thumbs. I like what my machine can do in creating fine heirloom stippling, feathers, trapunto, and traditional sashiko patterns. See my free video for quilting the pictorial quilt!
My husband is a wonderful photographer and does all the camera work for my web site and for scenes I see that inspire me. I love to research all I can about a particular animal or landscape. Bruce takes pictures and I study books and google for more pictures of the area or animal in all its variations. Then I sit down to draw. That sketch will be complete with posture, scale size, and a value study. Then I enlarge that sketch to the size of the full quilt. That is pinned to my design wall and I am ready to start making templates for all of my individual pattern pieces.
This quilt captured our 40 anniversary trip to Venice! Watch the Free video entitled Art Quilts to see a speeded up in progress video. https://www.kathymcneilquilts.com/free-videos.htm
Many of your quilts have silk back grounds. Is it hard to work with silk?
Working with silk presents challenges, but they are far outweighed by silk’s dramatic effect.
My favorite silk is Dupioni. It is a medium-weight silk, woven from two different threads creating an iridescent shimmer. Viewed from slightly different angles, it magically changes color. That shimmer enhances heirloom-style quilting when light bounces off the quilted texture. Less expensive than you might think, it comes in a wide range of jewel tones and is readily available online or at large fabric stores. Dupioni has a nubby irregularity to the weave that makes it more stable for quilting than lighter weight silks (which may need to be fused with lightweight interfacing). For precision piecing, I recommend pinning silk to tissue paper first. Lay your template over the tissue and silk, creating a sandwich. Dupioni has a color “nap” so adjust your pattern layout to prevent color variations. To cut, use very sharp pinking shears or a rotary cutter with a new blade (straight or pinking) to prevent torn edges. To further reduce the risk of raveling, cut seam allowances slightly larger than one quarter inch and finish the edges with a small zigzag stitch. French seams or serged edges are also options. When sewing, use a single-hole throat plate and a new needle. The microtex sharp needle size 70/10 will slip easily between the fibers and create only a tiny hole. Never use a ballpoint type needle on silk. Even universal needles have a slightly rounded point, which can damage the fabric. Silk pins are nice but any sharp pin will work. If you pin your quilt sandwich prior to quilting, use new, small sharp safety pins. I have a box that I save just for pinning silk quilts. If your silk fabric slips during sewing, leave the tissue paper pinned to the pattern and sew the seams with the tissue paper in place. Gently remove the paper after sewing. Dupioni silk can be washed in cool water, preferably prior to cutting as there is considerable shrinkage. Be sure to test for color fastness if the silk will be used for a bed quilt. Dupioni can also be dry cleaned. To avoid problems, give your dry cleaner a sample piece of the silk to test. But be aware that washing or dry cleaning will change the feel and shimmer of the silk.
Silk quilts beautifully! Avoid marking your top with any wax-based marker. No-mark free-motion quilting techniques or tear-away tissue paper are better options. I use silk thread and low loft batting for best results.
How can I be more original and creative?
The Creative Process only works when you don’t allow yourself, or anyone else to make judgments about your work. It is a process! That process requires that we break rules, not make assumptions, and try things in a whole new way. Creativity is closely associated with how open we are to new experiences. You cannot be creative if you hold on to perfection!! Give yourself one challenge for every quilt. Pick something you want to work on, i.e your quilting, depth and perspective, etc.. Push your self out of your comfort zone in that one area. It is only fabric. If your screw it up you will have learned something along the way. MORE often than not, a happy accident will occur and you have figured out something new.
Make time for that Creative Process. It is proven to reduce Stress. While losing yourself and relaxing, you lower your Heart Rate and Blood Pressure, and you raise your Serotonin Levels, which is like taking a slug of anti-depressants. That is why I quilt 50 hours a week, because it is healthy. Tell yourselves - you are doing it for yourself, your family, and grandchildren. It’s true.
Are you still working as a nurse?
36 years as a Critical care nurse with wonderful friends and interesting patients. I retired in 2011. I don't miss getting up at 2am to go take care of a trauma case coming out of the O.R. that is sure to break your heart. Now I teach full time and am on the road visiting guilds and lots of big shows. I loved nursing and I love my new life. Never in my wildest dreams would I have believed that my passion would create a whole new career at the age of 59! I even get to teach on quilting cruises.
After working hundreds of hours on a quilt, how can you bear to sell them? How do you decide on the sale price?
They are like children to me. When they are raised and have taught me as much as they can, I let them go out into the world to someone who loves them as much as me. It is the process of discovery, tearing your hair out, and the ah-ha moments of inspiration that compel me to keep quilting. My house would be awash in quilts if I did not let them go. The price is decided by the size, the amount of hours, cost of materials - and if they have won awards. I would make more money working as a nurse but it makes me incredibly happy when some one loves my quilts as much as I do.
This is my other passion and part time job. My grand daughters!