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. . .

May 11, 2014


I recently finished piecing the shot cotton "Plain Spoken" quilt.  The next step was to figure out what I wanted to do for the quilting.  On an earlier shot cotton quilt, made from just the larger-size rectangles, I machine quilted a grid, and then added hand-quilting with embroidery thread, a simple line inside each rectangle.  I thought of doing similar hand-work on this quilt, so I tried it out on the sample above, right column.  Too boring, and the narrower rectangles needed a different treatment.  I've been wanting to expand my embroidery repertoire, so I decided to play with some embroidery stitching instead (working it through the three layers of top, batting, and backing, so that it serves as quilting as well)--done in the middle and left columns above.  I love how this looks!  So, my plan is to do vertical stitch-in-the-ditch in the seams between each column to secure everything, and then to do embroidery in the narrow rectangles (0.5 x 3").  I won't do any stitching at all in the larger rectangles (1.5 x 3").  It will take me a year or two to complete, but it will be a pleasure to do.  There are 1,440 narrow rectangles in this quilt, and I'm thinking I'll try to do something different in each one.  I've been going through embroidery books, picking out stitches that will be usable for this project, and so far have about 150 different stitches (e.g., back stitch, lazy daisy, French knot, etc.).  Since many of these stitches can be used in multiple ways, I think it's possible to come up with 1,440 variations, especially since the straight stitch (example in lower left corner above) is basically a short drawn line, so there are as many variations as one could make with a drawn line. . .

With a quilting plan in place, the next step was to baste together the three layers of the quilt.  I usually secure the layers by spray-basting, with the layers pinned to a vertical design wall--a method I learned from a Patsy Thompson video.  But this quilt is 90 x 112 (for a queen-size bed), and the spray-basting works best for something smaller, and for something done by machine rather than hand-quilting.  I decided to baste this on a low-nap carpet, a method described by Suzanne Marshall in her book Take-Away Appliqué, pp. 78-79.  I have a large carpeted area in the finished attic of my house that I could use.  First, the back gets pinned to the carpet, all around the edges:

Then the batting is smoothed out onto the backing.  (For hand-quilting, I use Hobbs Poly-Down.)  Then the top is smoothed out over the batting and secured with pins around all the edges.

Then, you sit on the quilt and baste it!  I've never tried this before, as I couldn't believe the quilt wouldn't shift from my moving around on it, and I also thought it would be a strain on my back.

But it has been working well.  I do only a half-hour at a time, twice a day.  After a week, I'm about half-way through.  I'll have to up the number of stints to three times a day, as I've got a guest coming into the guest room on Friday!

I'm stitching in the middle of every column, and in the middle of each row of larger rectangles.  It's a pleasure to be looking at all the color combinations close up.

May 6, 2014

Drawing and Looking

Each spring, I look forward to the blossoming of my neighbor's redbud tree, whose pink cloud of flowers I can gaze out upon from my kitchen and study windows.  Today I wanted to spend a little time drawing, so I thought I'd check out the redbud flowers, to see what they looked like close up.  To my great surprise--after 23 years of looking out at this tree--I found that the flowers are not just pink, but have a base of a deep rose color, with pink petals.

Often the particular shape of the component part of a flower has come as a surprise to me, when looked at close up, but not before the color.  I am grateful to my relatively new practice of drawing (begun in 2012 and described here) for making me slow down and look carefully.  There is so much to see. . .

It also interests me that in isolating one flower-filled twig of the tree, there is no hint of the cumulative effect of the blossoms on the whole tree.

May 4, 2014

Twenty colors

Here are the 20 colors that I dyed for the group challenge I mentioned yesterday.  Included here are a few pieces made with primaries I haven't used before, Grape (bottom of middle stack), Boysenberry (the middle fabric in the middle stack) and Strong Orange (bottom of right stack).  Before, to get these colors, I would have been mixing some combination of yellow, red, and blue; it's nice to have this quicker way (just one dye in the solution) to get these colors.

Then I sorted the piles into the colors requested by each of the participants, adding some other colors from my stash as well, and marking which participant each little stack is for.

I look forward to cutting into these fabrics, thinking of each friend as I make a small composition in these different arrays of color.