Saturday, January 28, 2012

Learning from Irena Bluhm

The Washington State Quilter's Spokane Quilt Guild hosted Irena Bluhm on Thursday with a 2 hour lecture as part of their guild meeting. I was excited to take advantage of this opportunity to hear from Irena in person, even if it took an almost 3 hour drive to get there--a lot less expense to travel that distance than across the country. I've watched some of her videos online and have been inspired by her work for a while. She is originally from Poland and lived in Germany for a few years before immigrating to the United States in the 90's. She got her long-arm in 2004 without ever having used one when her husband retired and she decided she wanted to make a bit of her own money. She is quite entertaining and is a very common sense thinking person.

Here are some of my notes from the lecture and a few pictures.
The quilt immediately to her right has won a lot of ribbons and was made within about 5 months of getting her long-arm machine. I believe this is the one she first showed with only the center medallion colored and realized that it needed more color to have that visual impact--the second of three critical elements to winning in the shows, the other two critical elements: (1) good design and (3)workmanship. She then colored the rest of it as seen in the photo.

As an illustration of an issue with a lack of repetition and balance, this quilt has a different border on the ends and she thinks this is a mistake.
With this quilt she made the point that the blue was the wrong color to use and the asymmetry of the quilt was also not well balanced.

She loves hummingbirds! Look at the background fills on this. A bit of bling added as well.

You know I love hearts, so had to share this one with you too.

Friday was a 5 hour class about her coloring techniques. These are samples that she brought for us to be inspired by. You can purchase these 'quilted panels' on her website and then color them in yourself! Or experiment by quilting a design on your own machine, then color them in! If marking before quilting, she uses Mark-B-Gone to identify registration elements used in doing the quilting. She doesn't typically draw the entire design, just the registration marks. Often creating an entire grid with Mark-B-Gone on the fabric to help with laying out the entire design. Using just about any pigment medium you can come up with (soft lead, rich in color are factors to consider--also cheapo pencils have more wax in them, expensive pencils have less wax --the less wax the more pigment), the key is to 'fix it' with textile medium. She recommends to NOT use liquid based textile medium--minimize the water as much as possible to prevent running of colors. Occassionally a color will change after the textile medium is applied so always test it. Delta Perma coat was the textile medium provided in the class. Once it has 'cured' for 7 days, put it in the bathtub for 30 minutes or so, then on the spin cycle in your washing machine, then hang it to dry. Once dry, steam the quilt flat. The samples are on a white muslin and have one layer of poly batt. For show quilts, she recommends white 100% cotton sateen (smooth fabric), a layer of cotton/poly or wool batting--something with loft, and then a second layer of batting that is 100% cotton --very flat and hangs well to help in the draping. All should be BLEACHED when using white so that seeds can't be seen. Use a contrasting thread when quilting to help color within the lines. Deciding on the color to use for shading and filling in may be the hardest part of the process. Consider shading techniques from general art concepts when coloring. She also demonstrated marbling techniques for backgrounds and suggested items to put under the fabric to create a texture while color treating the fabric i.e. sandpaper under the fabric, then use your colored pencil to rub over the top. I'm thinking a rubbing plate or your own stencil using tulip paint or something like that could also work and create interesting effects.

Here is the coloring that I did. I want to do some marbling in the center and add fill quilting on the outer edges then probably do some additional marbling. The color pencils are set with textile medium. I've got a couple of other designs on order and am excited to do a few more samples in the future. The fill quilting will be done with a thin non-contrasting thread unless a color is desired.

Other's work included:

During the class I had opportunity to show Irena a photo of my 'Supernova-Blackhole' quilt that I quilted with inspiration from her formal feathers. I also got some advice on my McCall's quilts that need more quilting in order to really become 'show quilts' that can compete. She was very helpful.


The photos above are of a purse that my mom made me with special fabrics selected based on my own personal favorite colors and styles. My dad makes the wooden part at the top which acts as an automatic closer of the purse when grabbing the handles in either a long strap or grabbing both sides for short straps. It is quite clever with lots of pockets inside and out, so everything stays very organized. While discussing some of the homemade purses that happened to be sitting on our desks while packing up at the end of the class, Irena was interested in having some of her old samples made into purses or totes in the way my mom had made mine. Kinda cool...will be interesting to see what comes of that. Maybe a new product will be available soon from Irena with some assistance going to the Adobe School Project. My mom and other women at her church makes these and sell them as a fundraiser for their local school. If you're interested in having a purse like this made, contact bettybaerg at cox dot net for details or via Facebook--in the next week she will post information in her 'notes' on her FB page for details. All proceeds go to a great cause. Patchwork ones are available from them directly from donated decorator samples, or you can send the fabrics you'd like to have it made with and they will make it for you. They can give you fabric requirements, etc.

While in Spokane I was able to find a few more batiks to use in my EQ7 2011 BOM layout! Still need a background fabric that I have selected--still trying to confirm the one I selected out of EQ7 is the one I want and can source it.

Have a great week!


  1. Fun stuff!!! Wow. Her works are amazing, alright. Must have been a real treat to see them in real life.

  2. Wow! Just wow! That work is incredible!

  3. Oh! My! Gosh! This is really beautiful.