Thursday, August 9, 2018

Tips to Add Light to your Sewing Space

Did you know that headaches, difficulty concentrating, and neck/shoulder pain are all symptoms of eye fatigue? I had no idea until I started researching better lighting! Experts say not only should you have a bright-lit area for performing tasks such as sewing or quilting, but the room should include an even, diffused light to prevent eye strain and fatigue. It's the number one reason I painted all the walls and ceiling white in my studio, to help reflect more light all around the room.

If you're still working on the lighting situation in your sewing area, don't miss these lighting tips at BERNINA's WeAllSew blog. Plus, this post includes a chance to win an amazing Daylight Company LED Slimline Table Lamp!

I purchased one of these LED Slimline Table Lamps last fall, and it's pretty amazing.

It has a long line of super bright LED bulbs that cast a nice, even, balanced temperature of light over my whole sewing area. It's especially handy at night or on cloudy days when I don't have the bright diffused sunlight streaming in the room.

Don't miss this opportunity to win one of these lamps, friends! Follow the link to WeAllSew in the post above to enter, the contest is open through August 14th.

Happy stitching!

Monday, August 6, 2018

Color Theory Fact and Fiction

Back in 2016, I took on a personal project to read the most important historical reference books on Color Theory that still influence us today. It was a way to try and understand how Color Theory applies to visual artists today, and why there seemed to be so much contradicting information and buzz out there about the right or wrong ways to create with color. You can check out my big Color Theory reading list here.

It's been an amazing project, and I did succeed in understanding more about Color Theory as it applies to creating. Most often I've been asked what the biggest takeaway was from the reading project that I can share with others, and it boils down to this, the difference between Color Theory fact and fiction.

#1. There is a difference between Color Theory in application and as inspiration.

#2. Misunderstandings about the basics of 3 pigment primary systems and their use have resulted in false statements about color systems and mixing of colors.

#3. People who present information about Color Theory for creatives don't always present opinions as different from facts or cite sources. In other words, there's stuff out there about using Color Theory in print and online that (gasp!) isn't based on facts.

#4. Humans perceive light in a complex biological, neurological, and psychological process. Our eyes include only three basic color receptors, out of which our brain puts together all the colors we perceive in the entire world. No matter what you use to create your work, or how you choose your colors, every single person who sees your work (and after all, the viewing by others is the whole point of creating, right?) is consuming it through the 3 color system of human color perception. True story. Based on facts. Let's move on!

Color Theory in Application

Color Theory in application is simply the physical action of putting color into practical use. This can include working directly with pigments (paint, dye, or ink), process printing, photographic color process, digital imaging, hair coloring, application of makeup, etc.

A painter uses color in a direct application when mixing and applying pigments onto any surface (canvas or paper, or even the surfaces of a house). There is a specific way to use color in this application called a 3 pigment primary system. These three pigments can include any shade of a RED, YELLOW, and BLUE (RYB) pigment (see more below about the problem of 3 pigment primaries). If you try to use the RED, GREEN, BLUE (RGB) system of light primaries when working with pigments you will not be successful.

Working with light, such as creating or manipulating digital images displayed on a screen made of light pixels (your smartphone, tablet, computer, or television), uses the 3 primary colors of light RED, GREEN, and BLUE (RGB). If you try to use the RED, YELLOW, BLUE (RYB) system of pigment primaries when working with light you will not be successful.

The Myth of the Lying 3 Pigment Primary Systems

If you've been reading online about 3 primary pigment systems you'll notice right away that there seems to be a fight between the RED, YELLOW, and BLUE system vs. the CYAN, MAGENTA, and YELLOW system. Some people talking as experts on Color Theory have gone so far as to say that the CMY system is correct and the RYB system is false, a total lie, and should never, ever, ever be used. Let's look at the roots of this misconception.

Artists began to record their thoughts and observations about color in the early 18th Century (like Coloritto by J. C. Le Blon). Artists have always looked back at previous generations and masters as part of the learning process, keep this in mind as you read further! In the 18th century the only pigments available for painting were from natural sources (animal, mineral, and plant). Most artists mixed their own pigments from recipes that include all kinds of chemicals, some of them dangerous and possibly deadly (read more in The Secret Lives of Colors by  Kassia St. Clair). Colors painted on canvas were not always permanent, some faded over time, and some caused damage to the painted surface. As a result, colors for painting were limited in palette and consistency. Bright colors that we take for granted today, available consistently in handy tubes at most craft or art supply stores down the street were not an option.

With this in mind, artists were writing observations on how the pigments mixed together, and they noted that red, yellow, and blue colors could be used to mix a very wide variety of other colors. Additionally, they noted that red, yellow, or blue could NOT be mixed from any other color available to them on their pallets. Artists would also note that different tints, tones, or shades of these three colors red, yellow, and blue would create completely different looking sets of colors.

This was the discovery of the basic 3 primary pigment system; any combination of one reddish, one yellowish, and one blueish pigment could be used to create other colors. Some colors of red, yellow, and blue worked better than others. When working in a closed 3 pigment primary system, no other colors within the system can be used to create the 3 basic colors. Therefore, what these early artists recorded in their early writing about the process was that red cannot be mixed from any other colors. This is true in any closed 3 pigment primary system where red, yellow, and blue are the primary colors. Remember that phrase about not being able to mix red for later!

During the experimentation and invention that took place during the industrial revolution, scores of new pigment colors were being discovered along with new processes to supply read-made paints for use by artists. It became easier to purchase and use a wider variety of colors that were more consistent and permanent. One of these newly discovered pigments was a magenta color, which was later perfected in a transparent ink by Herbert E. Ives for use in printing with the CMY system.

This is another form of a 3 pigment primary system, a bright blue called Cyan, a reddish color called Magenta, and a clear Yellow as primary colors used to create a range of other colors in the closed system. In the CMY system, no other color that appears in this system can be mixed to create a cyan, magenta, or yellow color.

By the way, if you're wondering what CMYK the 3 color printing process of CMY it was discovered that a large quantity of ink in the CMY system had to be used to produce a dark black color. To cut down on the amount of ink used, black was added for better definition of key parts of the image, thus the "K" in CMYK stands for key color of black.

Back to our color theory 3 pigment primary train here! In the CMY system, you can mix together magenta and yellow to create a form of red. Did you get that? Within the 3 pigment primary system of cyan, magenta, and yellow, you CAN mix a red from two of the primary colors.

But wait, above we saw a statement that "red cannot be mixed from any other colors" when talking about the red, yellow, blue system, right? How can artists say that? LIES! All lies I tell you!

Actually, nope. Not lies, just misinformation. Many artists wrote at length about mixing colors well before the CMY system ever existed on this planet. And other artists were still looking back to those texts well after new pigments were invented making CMY possible. And, add to this that the statement "red cannot be mixed from any other colors" was taken completely out of this context. That phrase applies specifically to the 3 pigment primary system of red, yellow, and blue. Within this closed system, red cannot be mixed from any other colors made in this system.

Just as within the cyan, magenta, and yellow system magenta cannot be mixed from any other colors made in this system.

Therefore, anyone who uses the statement "red cannot be mixed from any other colors" to discredit or otherwise disenfranchise the validity of the red, yellow, blue 3 pigment primary system is taking the phrase completely out of context to make a false argument.

TRUE: In the 3 pigment primary system of red, yellow, and blue, you cannot mix red from any other color.

FALSE: You cannot mix red from any other colors of paint pigments.

Got it? Good! Remember it, and pass it on.

And, as a final note, the majority of artists working with pigments never restrict themselves to only three primary pigments. Usually, the artist will select a range of pigments, mixing some together to create new colors with the knowledge of how these pigments will react and what colors can be expected with mixing. To hear an argument that artists should use only one 3 pigment primary over another, or that one is "right" and one is definitely "wrong" is kind of a moot point. Visual artists applying pigments directly don't use Color Theory restrictively in that way (unless, of course, they are restricting themselves purposefully to a limited 3 color primary palette as part of their work). Visual artists, especially successful ones, know their chosen pigment media in depth and can create colors imagined or experienced in the real world without having to lean only on one restrictive 3 pigment primary. End of story.

Human Color Perception

Your eyeballs include only three types of light wave receptors corresponding to the perception of red, blue, and green light waves. So basically your eyes can only detect three actual colors, the rest of which you "see" because your brain creates the sensation of different colors when these three basics mix together in different proportions. The color system of trichromatic human color perception is red, blue, and green.
If you want to be downright technical about how you (or anyone else) experiences anything seen (such as something you create), the RGB system of color perception is the only one that matters. I can't say it any better than Frans Gerritsen in his masterwork, Theory and Practice of Color. This book totally exploded my brain the first time I read it.

The most current texts about color (like Color Studies or Color Works) clearly name the three color systems I've just described above as the Pigment color wheel (also called the Subtractive wheel or Artists wheel) with 3 primaries red/yellow/blue, the Process wheel (also called the Partative wheel or Printers wheel) with 3 primaries cyan/yellow/magenta, and the light wheel (also called the Additive wheel or Human Color Perception wheel) with 3 primaries red/green/blue. These have become standard with no mention of one being more right or more wrong than any other, and each having its own purpose.

Color Theory Inspiration

Color Theory in inspiration is simply the process of being mentally stimulated to create something by looking directly at tools like a color wheel or 3-dimensional color system. Which system you use for inspiration is completely up to you, there are many to choose from. Some people might prefer one system over another for inspiration, as clearly, some systems include more or different colors than others.

But don't be mistaken here, the personal preference for using one color system or tool over another for inspiration does not negate other systems, or make one system the "right" system and all others "wrong" choices.

My personal advice to visual artists, quilters, and all makers who love color is to look at several color systems (I blogged about a few of them here) and the color harmonies that are created within each of those systems (I also blogged about how to use a color wheel here).

How to Use Color Theory Creatively

Last but not least, here's some solid advice for using Color Theory in your creative practice.

There are no right or wrong choices for how you use color when you create. If you choose to use a particular color system as inspiration, that's your preference. Your personal preference to use one color system as inspiration doesn't make someone else's preference for a different system wrong.

If you want to create something with color that takes advantage of human color perception, use the RGB system for inspiration - after all, it's how you and I experience color in the world. And although some people have pointed out that the RGB system is like a "mirror" of the CMY system, they still represent DIFFERENT systems with different meanings. Yes, you can use a basic 12 color CMY and RGB wheel to come up with some of the same harmonies and color combinations. But you cannot say that the CMY system represents light or "the light wave" because it just doesn't (yes C&T Publishing, I'm looking at you). Only the RGB system of light and human color perception can represent light, or how humans perceive different wavelengths of light as color.

If you are searching for more information for using Color Theory in your work, beware what you read. Look specifically for information from bloggers, authors, teachers, or self-professed experts on the subject who source their information. If what you're reading sounds more like someone's opinion than fact, it probably is. Ask questions if you don't quite understand something someone says or where the ideas or information came from. Request specific sources.

If you talk about Color Theory authoritatively as a blogger, teacher, author, educator, or self-professed expert on the subject, please be clear about the information you are putting forth for others. If you're talking about your opinion or preference for using color, just say so! If you're basing information on a specific system, or other experts, please add in links to your blog, cite sources, or add a bibliography. Be prepared to answer questions about what you're saying or provide direct sources.

Do you have an appetite to learn more? Check out your local library to read what you can about human color perception and Color Theory. Or drop me a line, tell me what you're interested in specifically and I'll try to recommend a few books that I think you might like. Once you start to understand some basics, it's easy to see what's for reals and what's total baloney. And then you can ignore all the false buzz and bull about "color," and get down to the business of creating.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Tool Caddy Thread Catcher

Have you ever tried to hand-sew something sitting down and ended up with a lap full of scissors, clips, needle and thread? You guys, this happens to me all the time! Loosing needles and dropping scissors on the floor - time after time- finally forced me to make myself a handy helper for hand-sewing.

It's a tool caddy on one side and a thread catcher on the other, and it drapes over the arm of a chair or couch.

And I added a little loop for holding thread snips, plus a strap near the top to hold clips.

I also put a layer of batting in between the tool caddy (behind the pocket part) which makes this a great place to stick pins and needles.

I am loving it - no more dropped tools or snips of thread all over the floor! You can find the full tutorial to make your own Tool Caddy Thread Catcher today over at WeAllSew!

Please share photos with me if you make one, I'd love to see it, tag me on Instagram!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Sewing Machine Tool Organizer

A few years ago I turned some old patchwork into a sewing machine mat.

It was large enough to have some added space on the sides of the machine for some extra stuff and included a full row of pockets across the front. It was the perfect size for my BERNINA 440 QE, but when I upgraded to a bigger BERNINA 770 QE the mat suddenly seemed too small. I missed having extra space on the sides of the machine both on the table top to hold scissors and pin cushion, and with pockets to hold tools.

Time to make a new sewing machine mat, right? Yes! I took the best parts of that first mat and made some improvements; extra room on the top of the mat for other tools (pincushion, large shears, cup of tea, etc.), the front pockets are deep enough to hold tools but short enough to clear my legs, the backing includes stiff interfacing to keep the mat from sagging or bunching up, and I created angled pockets to hold tall tools (like a sewing gauge and tweezers) so they don't poke up above the table and get in the way of sewing.

I also got enough comments on that first mat to know that some people really wanted to have instructions to make one of their own! You can find out how to make one yourself with my Sewing Machine Mat Tutorial at BERNINA's WeAllSew blog. I hope you enjoy it!

Are you really surprised that I added a patchwork rainbow to my mat? ;)

It also works fantastic for other stuff, like using my fabric die cutter. I have thread snips, tweezers, and a small dental pic in the pockets to keep the die blocks clean while cutting. And the mat helps hold the die cutter in place. If you think the mat would slip around while using a die cutter, you need to follow the link above to learn my secret for keeping the mat securely on the table and free from slipping around!

Loving it so far, especially how it brightens up the space. I'd love to see photos if you create a sewing machine mat - please link in the comments or tag @erika.mulvenna at Instagram.

Happy stitching!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Union Square Big Block Project

Good news everyone, I've just finished a new quilt! This quilt was a BERNINA Ambassador assignment to take a traditional block and turn it into a jumbo sized quilt, and the finished project can be found as a free Quilt-Along at BERNINA's WeAllSew blog.

I'm not really a traditional block quilter, so this was a difficult assignment. To choose a block as inspiration, I looked at another quilt-along in process at the WeAllSew blog, the BERNINA block-of-the-month quilt by Nina McVeigh. These are traditional blocks put together with bright, modern fabrics, and I fell in love with the Union Square quilt block. It's great, right? I love the symmetry, the movement from the center out to the edges, and the simplicity.

Plus itt was an easy block to take from the small size and increase it to a 60" x 60" finished quilt (and I was all about making this an easy project). The colors were easy to work with, too. I kept the yellow, light blue, and pinkish red colors from the original block because these are close to the three base colors of the CMY system (cyan blue, magenta red and yellow)—one of my favorite color systems. These three colors just look great together.

I did add an additional square in the center placed on-point. Or does that make it a diamond and not an on-point square? Ah, at any rate, the red center represents the red in the BERNINA logo, and the three shades of golden yellow radiating out from the BERNINA red center represent the 125 year celebration of BERNINA's golden anniversary this year.

There are some funny color theory things happening in this quilt. First of all, if you're looking at the center block, the dark shade of golden yellow can start to appear to have a greenish tint. This phenomenon of human color vision is called simultaneous contrast. When your eyes focus on the red for a long period of time, the opposite visual color of green starts to appear next to it in that gold, and all of a sudden you think that you're looking at a dark mossy green color.

The other trick of the eyes may make the center square start to look more like an orange-red than a true red as the strong magenta red squares affect your perception of the reddish colors compared to each other.

Here's what I learned from this quilt. The simpler the geometric design is, the harder it is to get it right. I really struggled with my color choices, and the center block design. I ended up drawing several different design choices and colored them in different ways, and then spent about two weeks just looking at the different designs until I settled on this one. And I still wasn't sure it would work until I got it all together, although I like it better now that it is finished.

For sure, I have a brand new respect for quilters who have the ability to work with large-scale, graphic, simple geometric designs and make it look so easy. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to accomplish a design like this again, this was a difficult assignment to tackle!

How about you, have you ever tried to create a large-scale graphic design in a quilt? How did it work for you? I'd love to see photos, please share in the comments or give me a link!

Until next time, happy stitching!