Karma chameleon

29 09 2009

Back in May, my friend Bobbie decided some of us needed a challenge! (details here). The magazine I got from Michelle was on reptiles, and page 35 had some cute pictures of chameleons.

I agonised over what to make — a wall hanging? a tote bag? a stuffed toy? a cushion cover? something else? — and what techniques to use (part of the challenge was to use a technique we’d never tried before).

The first step was deciding what chameleon image to use — I found plenty on the internet, and of course, I had those in the magazine too. I didn’t *have* to use the images in the magazine — but whatever was on p35 was to be the inspiration for what I made. I thought I might do a chameleon’s eye or skin with lots of free motion quilting, but then wondered what I’d make with the eye or the skin as the focus. Nothing popped into my head.

Next, I thought I’d look at what fabrics I had to see if I could get inspiration that way. Go for a rainbow assortment of colours to reflect a chameleon’s changing colours? or emulate the bright green of some of those shown in the magazine? Perhaps the fabric choice would inspire the object I was to make… I settled on some greens and decided I’d start by making the chameleon itself, and let the creative juices do their thing as I was making it.

I have no idea of the name of the techniques I used, but they were new to me! I’d never done something that was free motion machine embroidered onto interfacing [new technique 1], and especially where part of it was double-sided, giving three-dimensionality [new technique 2]. I traced the outline and the general dark and light shapes of my chameleon onto tracing paper and then on to freezer paper [new technique 3]. Then I applied the freezer paper shapes to various green fabric — and got them all round the wrong way as I’d never used freezer paper before, so I had to retrace the shapes again but in reverse… [new technique 4].

I used a base piece of green fabric for the chameleon (whole body), then different green fabrics for the legs, head etc. which I loosely appliqued in order on to the base shape (old technique) so that the topmost elements, such as the legs, were appliqued on last. After loosely stitching on each piece, I used various stitches on the machine, as well as a whole lot of thread painting [new technique 5] to give dimension to the fabric.

But even after a few hours of thread painting and stitching, I still wasn’t happy – the chameleon just didn’t look oomphy (technical term!) enough. The greens faded into each other and unless you looked carefully it was hard to see where the legs were, etc. (Which some might say is the whole point of a chameleon…)

I added fabric to the underside of the tail so that it could float freely [new technique 6] on whatever I decided to put this chameleon onto, then decided to emphasise the body parts by turning the chameleon into a stained glass one, using black bias tape for the ‘leading’ [almost new technique – I’d only used it once before]. NOW my chameleon popped!

But I still didn’t know where or how I was going to use my little work of art. So I let him sit for a while (by this stage, he had acquired a gender, but not a name).

A week or so later, I had my answer! I was leaning toward a cover for the cushion I kept dragging from the sofa and putting on the back on my office chair to help support my back when I sat at the computer all day editing scientific documents. My chair is great, but leaning forward all the time isn’t what the chair is made for, and my lower back had been hurting. Then it hit me! Why not a bolster cushion that would sit right down low in the lumbar region?

Back to the internet to get a bolster cushion pattern (well, not a pattern – just ideas, really). Now I had a place for my chameleon! The last steps were to create some branches for my chameleon to sit on in his leafy background, and to create the sausage shape of the bolster cushion [new technique 7] and stuff it with a roll of batting. I didn’t even take the batting out of the roll — leaving the plastic around it meant it went in easier, and keeps it shape better. Then lastly I added some bright lime green ribbon as drawstring ties [new technique 8] for my bolster cushion so I can adjust it for the chair, and voila! My challenge piece was done!

That’s a long story to get to these pictures, but here you can see my chameleon in his rightful home — click on an individual image to see it in full size.

(I wrote this post in July, but it’s not ‘going live’ until October, after our weekend retreat where all will be revealed by the five of us involved in this challenge — one of the rules of the challenge is that we can’t let each other know what we’re doing! However, I’ve been using my chameleon bolster cushion since late June, and he works a treat!)