December 21, 2014

Greens and purples

I'm making a quilt for Ashley, who picked out a color scheme of green and purple.  I had fun dyeing a range of colors.  I'm using a pattern by Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr called "Glyphs," which incorporates improvised piecing; I've really been enjoying cutting and piecing this pattern.  Here are the first 24 blocks (out of 64 that I'll need for the quilt); I've made each block to finish at 6x8-1/2".

 Ashley prefers a bluish green, so I may have too much yellow-green.  Some is fine, but I'll probably re-balance as I make more blocks.

Here's a photo of the pattern, available in Modern Quilts Illustrated, no. 9.

I've changed the size of the block while keeping the proportion of width/length.  I plan to use a narrower sashing, and a border the same width as the sashing.  I haven't decided yet on the color for the sashing.  I'll wait until the blocks are done and then audition fabrics.  I'm thinking it might be a light green, or possibly a wide range of colors from the quilt.

December 15, 2014

Self-Portrait--an earlier design

Some pre-history of the "Self-Portrait, Year 2" quilt that I wrote about in my last post. The small maquette above (11x14") was done sometime in 2005/06.  This was my first design for the same idea (calm lavender at the surface, dark disturbance below).  The maquette is pinned to the bulletin board in my studio, and most people who see it comment on it.  I've collected a variety of black fabrics with the intention of doing a large-scale version of it at some point.

Two quilts accepted into QuiltCon

My blog has been silent for a few months, as I was spending more time than usual on some travel, a workshop at the Crow Barn, and then an unexpected month-long stint back working at the college, substituting for someone who took an unexpected leave.  What time I had for my own work, I spent sewing rather than writing about sewing.  I did line up topics for several posts, and I hope to know come back to them and catch up.

Good news from QuiltCon also pushed me to the computer.  This is the second time the Modern Quilt Guild has put on a national convention/exhibition.  In 2012, I submitted three quilts, none of which were accepted.  This year I submitted another three, two of which were accepted; the show will be in February.  The quilt that wasn't accepted was Regret, not too surprising, as it is more an "art quilt" than a "modern quilt," though the line between these is pretty hazy.  (And not a debate I'm interested in getting involved in.)  I haven't yet posted about either of the two quilts that were accepted.  One of them is an improvisational quilt, done as part of a call for quilts by Sherri Lynn Wood.  She is publishing a book on improvisational quilting, and she wanted quilts by others to use as illustrations of her methods.  The quilt I made was accepted for publication in her book, and part of the agreement is that I would wait to blog about it until the book comes out.  That will happen in February, so you'll see a post or two about that quilt in a couple of months.  

The other quilt accepted in the show is called "Self-Portrait, Year 2: Beneath the Surface."  It is a large, conceptual piece (68" x 94").  It goes back to my experience of being in the second year of mourning the death of my son.  At that point, the persistent sense of grief and loss that had become the underlying condition of my life had become invisible to others.  From the outside, all looked normal.  But underneath the surface, a fundamental change in identity was being shaped.  I ended up expressing this condition with a two-sided quilt.  One side is a dusky lavender, presenting the apparently calm surface.  (Only after choosing the color, did I learn from Claire Leeds that lavender was the Victorian color of mourning, allowed after black had been worn for a period of time.) The other side--"beneath the surface"--presents a bold black and white statement.   I've asked for the quilt to be hung at QuiltCon so that both sides show.  

First, the lavender side, which looks empty.

Close up, you can see the machine stitching around the letters on the other side, so the wording is just barely visible, in reverse.

And here's a small portion of the other side, black letters on white.

I don't feel comfortable showing the whole message.  It is difficult to look at, something to be seen in person, I think, rather than on a screen.  I thought of not posting about this at all, given my discomfort with showing the image, but decided to go ahead and give you at least a partial view.  

* * * * *  

On the technical side, this was a challenging quilt to make.  As often happens, a final piece that looks simple in design was the result of many decisions on multiple fronts.  For example, choosing what font to use for the message.  I am very satisfied with my final choice (Helvetica Neue Bold), but the choice was made after many weeks of trying out various fonts, reading about typography in general, and about Helvetica in particular--including this film.  The size of font to use was another decision, and then figuring out how to print out letter templates that large.  (Thanks much to Tim Stedman of the Knox College Art Department, and to Bill Kerr of Modern Quilt Studio for their help on all things typographical.)  And how to lay out the eight words of the message--could be 4 or 5 lines, with line breaks in various places.  Once the design was settled, there were many challenges in the construction of the work.    

Because the quilt is meant to be two-sided, and I didn't want a rim of binding around the edge, I used a "pillowcase binding," which is more usually done on small pieces.  I laid out all three layers (top, bottom, batting) on the floor, holding them down with masking tape.  Here are the first two layers:

Then the third layer laid on top of those.  I used felt instead of regular batting, as I wanted the piece to be quite flat after the quilting.

Then all the layers had to be squared off and trimmed, doing all this moving around on my hands and knees.

After the sandwich was stitched and turned, I needed to mark the quilting lines. I needed something 8 feet long, rigid and straight.  Wooden molding was not straight enough, so I found a heavy strip of metal at Lowes that worked.  I used this to mark the placement of the rows (a marker worked well on the metal), and then I also used it as a guide to mark the lines, running a hera marker along the edge.

Looking through my photos, I found this one (below) of early quilting trials.  I'd forgotten that I considered quilting horizontally rather than vertically.  I also tried out various spacings for the vertical lines.  I ended up using a spacing just a little narrower than the width of the letter elements.

September 5, 2014

Variations on a theme

(Note to Quilters by Design folks--If you'd rather be surprised by your block in March, go no further!)

I tend to work on multiple things at once, which means that the story of a particular project can be spread out over months, sometimes years.  The blocks above are the final result of the challenge I posted about in May, using the fabrics that I posted about the next day.  The basic idea:  each of nine quilters chose one or more colors.  As one of the nine, I made eight compositions, one for each of the other quilters, using their preferred colors.  (One person chose "pastel floral" instead of a specific color, which explains why the block in the middle of the left column looks quite different.)  The only size specified was that either the width or length had to be 9.5 inches.  I decided to start each of the designs with the improvised shape that I came up with in a class with Sherri Wood (described here):

I continue to like this basic shape, even after playing with it eight times for these challenge blocks.  

We'll be exchanging our blocks at our next retreat in March.  It will be fun to see what others made for me.  I gave just one color for my preference:  yellow-green.

July 25, 2014



This quilt (72 x 60") is now finished .  You can retrieve the history of its making from this post.  I am satisfied that the basic graphic design of the quilt captures what I had in mind--the nature of the feeling of regret, which, for me, has to do with a missed connection between two people.

A detail of the quilting from the front (double-click to enlarge; color more accurate above); both thread and fabric were hand-dyed.

And a detail from the back. By comparing the two detail photos, you can see how the short parallel stitches on one side turn into a dash-dot pattern on the other side:

I am not entirely satisfied with how the quilting turned out.  Looking up close is fine, and from a far distance is fine.  But standing a normal viewing distance away, I'm bothered by the puckering that happened, especially in the bottom half of the quilt, a result of the the batting material (flannel) and binding method (pillowcase binding, sewn before the quilting) that I used.  After ironing, the puckering was reduced enough that I'm content to show these photos and to put the quilt in my local guild show next month.  But one of these days, I may come back to this, and do a machine quilted version as well. Before I decided on hand-quilting, I machine stitched a small maquette of the quilt.  Here's a detail of it:

And a view of the whole--I added some complexity to the background by having the lines go in various directions:

Or I could instead do straight (diagonal) lines across the whole quilt.  Or lines going in one direction in the background and another direction on the black figures.

But in the meantime, I've got a few more major quilts in mind, and they get higher priority.

May 22, 2014

Even with a pattern--many decisions

I recently finished up a version of Carol Friendlander's "Focal" pattern; my version above is 40 x 48". When using a pattern, I am relying on a designer for the basic composition of a quilt.  Much as I enjoy designing my own quilts, I also enjoy taking a break, leaving the major compositional decisions to someone else.  But it never ceases to amaze me how many design decisions still have to be made for a quilt, even when working from a pattern.  In this way, I find it very different from the sewing and knitting I have done since I was a young girl.  Yes, you have to choose the fabric or yarn for those, but that's basically one choice, and then you just follow the pattern.  (I know it's possible to do significant adaptation/alteration of such patterns, but I never have.)  With a quilt, even the choice of fabric is a whole set of choices, as a quilt typically contains at least two fabrics, and often many more than that.  The huge range of choices available in today's quilting stores is very different from choosing the one color of, say, cordoroy, that I was going to use for a skirt.  When I first started quilting, I found these choices daunting.  I started reading in color theory to help me figure fabric choice; from there I went further into composition, drawing, graphic design, modern art history, and more--all of which has helped me gain confidence in making design choices as I make a quilt, including sometimes designing my own from start to finish.

About the decisions I made when using this pattern by Carol Friedlander:  As always, the first choice was for fabrics.  I decided to use my hand-dyed fabric for most of the quilt, just using commercial fabric for the little triangles.  In an earlier post (which includes a photo of Friedlander's pattern), I talked about how, while keeping the basic compositional design of the pattern, I fundamentally changed the construction process.  But while the construction was different, the design remains Friedlander's, and I think it's brilliant!

Other than fabric, my big design choice was what quilting pattern to use for stitching the three layers together.  I tried out various designs, and decided to go with a casual, angular floral design in the center section, and then straightline quilting in the border, outlining each "stick."  Even that simple choice for the border came only after trying out several different possibilities on a sample piece.

The final choice was the binding.  The binding is just 3/8" around the edge, but the right choice can really pull a quilt together.  I auditioned various fabrics:  aqua, orange, burgundy, and a scrappy sequences of 4" strips of fabrics used in the triangles.  I thought the scrappy binding would likely be my choice, but it ended up competing with the triangles, rather than emphasizing them.  In the end, I went with a dusky purple, and I think it does its work very well.  I didn't have enough of one color for all four sides, and I wasn't in the mood to dye more, so I used one color for top and bottom and another for the two sides.  Even though the fabrics looked quite different in the large, uncut pieces, with one both darker and with more red in it, you can barely tell the difference in this close up:

And really not at all when you step away and look at the whole quilt:

For the back, I ended up choosing to dye one piece of fabric, a mottled chartreuse.


May 18, 2014

Daiwabo runner

About a month ago, I wrote about the runner I planned to make from daiwabo fabric, for the buffet in my dining room; you can see the array of fabrics I started with on that post.  Above, you can see the completed runner, along with a painting of the Hotel de Sens in Paris by our friend Rick Ortner.  

The runner was made using Amy Walsh's pattern, "Get in Line" (from American Patchwork & Quilting, June 2012).  Below is a closeup that shows the binding and the quilting: 

I used bias strips for the binding, because of needing to go around a couple of curves.  And since the fabric I choose for the binding was a heavy weave, I made it with single-fold rather than double-fold binding.  I haven't used single-fold binding before, but I think I'll choose it again for some projects. The reduced bulk is nice, and it uses up less fabric.

Those nice wavy quilting lines are done with a set decorative stitch (rather than free-motion quilting), a stitch that came built into my new sewing machine.  I recently upgraded from my Pfaff Performance 2056 to a Pfaff Performance 5.0.  The main impetus to the upgrade was to get enhanced quilting ability, in two ways.  1) The machine has the ability to do very wide decorative stitches, including this wavy one (which can be made wider or narrower, elongated or not).  This is a really useful stitch for a fast and easy way to quilt a project.  2) The throat space on the machine (the open space between the needle and the right portion of the body of the machine) is 10"--several inches longer and also higher than on my old machine.  This makes it much easier to quilt a larger quilt, as half of the quilt has to be able to scrunch up in that opening when being quilted.  These are the features that got me to look at the machine, but in addition, Pfaff did a great job of adding in a lot of very useful features for everyday sewing, without taking away anything I already loved about the Pfaff.  I'm very happy with the purchase.  For any sewers out there who are interested in the machine, I would recommend this 45-minute video:

The table insert that surrounds the machine is clear acrylic--so the thing that looks like a map behind the machine is actually a reflection in the acrylic of the redbud tree outside my window.

Before I put away the extra daiwabo fabric and strips, I sewed up a little log cabin block, just to see how I would like it.  Maybe someday, I'll pull out the fabrics again, and do a table runner from four larger blocks like this. . .