April 14, 2018

A four-day quilting retreat

Each year, a group I'm part of, Quilters by Design, meet for a four-day retreat where we discuss our work and do a lot of sewing. The people in the group have all done design workshops with Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr, so we share a common vocabulary and approach to the design process. It's great to have dedicated time to sew, to share the time with friends, and to see how a quilt design can be transformed once response and suggestions are heard from a group of creative folks.  For example, I brought with me a quilt that was in the early state of the design process.  I had finished five large appliqué blocks, using a pattern that showed the blocks laid out for a 40x40" wall-hanging.

"Japanese Gingko" by Roxanne McElroy
This has been my "travel appliqué" project for a few years, more important to me for the process (having  easy-to-transport hand-work when I travel) than for the finished product.  As I was finishing up the last block, I learned of a wedding in August that I'll want to make a quilt for, and it occurred to me to use these blocks to make a quilt, rather than a wall-hanging. My only thought was to keep the blocks in the layout shown in the pattern, putting them on a quilt-sized background (about 55x75). Mary Beth and I had a fabric shopping trip planned, so I brought along a block, and I found a batik that we both thought would work for the background.

When I got home, I laid out the blocks on the fabric, and played around with the possibility of adding colored sashing.  This was as far as I had gotten when I left for the retreat. I packed this up, thinking it would be a good thing on which to get some feedback.

Well, of the six others at the retreat, none of them thought the black/gold batik worked for the background fabric. I explained that I didn't want to do plain black--didn't seem appropriate for a wedding quilt. I had some extra fabric in the bright colors of the applique, and wondered about adding them into the mix, perhaps large triangles separating the blocks. Had I thought of any other layouts for the blocks, they asked? No, I was just going with the layout suggested in the pattern. Then Janis suggested, "What about a layout like 'Posh Tot'?" This is a pattern available from Blue Underground Studios, the company of one of women in our group, and many of us have made the pattern. (I've used it a number of times for a baby quilt.)

"Post Tot" by Christy Marnell, available from Blue Underground Studios
This suggestion quickly led to the layout below.  So much better! I never would have thought of this on my own--a great reminder of the usefulness of sharing work in a group critique. (The black/gold patterned batik will now be used on the back instead of the front.)

There's a way to go yet to finalize the design, but mostly issues of proportion and arrangement of colors (though I think this arrangement works quite well). Laid out this way, 4 blocks makes a good-sized quilt; the fifth block (lavender) will probably go on the back of the quilt. It's just as well I only need four for the front, because I have only a small scrap of the lavender fabric left over, and have not had luck finding another length of the same color batik.

The main sewing project I brought to the retreat was to put together the blocks I'd finished for another quilt, made from a pattern in Rebecca Bryan's Modern Triangle QuiltsHere's a photo of the pattern from the book:

And here's my version (finished top only):

This quilt is a wedding gift, with colors chosen by the couple.  To get the background just the blue they wanted, I hand-dyed that fabric and the lighter blues; most of the other colors are commercial solids.

Although the quilt has the look of improvisation, the blocks were actually all done according to specific instructions in the book. I wasn't used to working with triangles, so I thought I would start out with Bryan's instructions and then improvise from there, but the triangles were challenging to work with, so I just kept following the block patterns worked out by her.  Ten of the blocks are paper-pieced.

After I finished piecing this top, I made 4 pillowcases for David and me (two each of the ones below):

I also cut out the pieces for a baby quilt that's been in my drawer for a while. And I learned a nifty way to make square-in-a-square blocks without having to cut any pieces. I've written up a tutorial and will post that shortly.

So, a very productive four days for my own projects, and a delight to see what everyone else was working on and talk through design issues in those also.


  1. It's always great to get together with the Muses. I love the blue wedding quilt and I am anxious to read/see the square in a square post!!

  2. Penny,
    Great process on the appliqué quilt. Really like the "less is more" approach. Both wedding couples will be very lucky recipients.

    I was so sorry to miss the group retreat but look forward to next year . Best, jill

  3. Sounds like your retreat was both fun AND productive!