Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Think Like an Artist



Without going into details that are unnecessary to share, let's just say that things have been tough behind the scenes the last couple of months. Beyond the normal day-to-day stresses has been a situation that sadly, has resulted in a farewell to one of my closest workmates, someone I have teamed with over the course of many years, a mentor of sorts, and a dear friend. One of the countless things I admire about him is his artistry. He is a graphic artist, as well as a poet and just generally a gifted wordsmith. It was his love of art that spoke to me and provided the vision for this quilt for him.



I began with shapes... improv shapes that I am so drawn to - stripes and crosses and crosshatches - encircling them all to create some structure, an element so key as an artist creates. I found Latifah Saafir's The Clammy 12" template indispensable once again in making the circle blocks.  Though I fully intended to 'fill' every circle with the shapes, it wasn't long before I realized a little went a long way.

As a nod to different forms of art, I chose a variety of fabrics with different textures.... quilter's cotton, Essex yarn-dyed linen-cotton blends, a Moda cross weave, and a lone Indah Batik



For quilting, Aurifil 50wt #2730 (Delft Blue) was an obvious pick, and I was more convinced the farther I quilted. Guided by Jacquie Gering's WalkI chose a diagonal orange peel design, which began with a hera-marked 4" grid. After quilting that, I went back to quilt the curves unmarked, which meant the result was a tad organic, but suited me and the quilt just fine.



With a binding in Kona Prussian, the quilt finished at 60" x 72".

 

And so this quilt came together rather quickly so I can send my friend off in the best way I know how. Because at times like this.... there are no words.

Monday, March 27, 2017

All That Improv

After surviving the year-long process of piecing my improv slab quilt, it seemed logical to gather all my individual blocks in one place and take note of the tutorials I used. Much credit goes to Matt Macomber/@odditease for planning the BOM and providing us with tutorials or at least suggestions on how to get started. So here's the rundown, with my added comments thrown in now and then:

One. Strings



Two. Triangles



Three. Gentle curves



Four. Crazy-piecing



Five. Squares

  • In Matt's words, "I cut a variety of squares from my fabrics, joined the squares into pairs, joined those pairs of squares into four patch units, and then assembled those four patch units into the slab."
  • My process ended up being similar to how Amanda Jean/crazy mom quilts begins her Scrap Vortex quilt.


Six. Pineapples

  • Jacquie Gering's tutorial, which includs a 'half log cabin' variation, shown in the right half of my slab, as well as the full block, on the left.


Seven. Quarter circles



Eight. Churn dash



Nine. Hourglass

Ten: Spikes

So there's a handy little round-up of improv quilt block tutorials to get you experimenting on your own. Have fun!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Back in the Day

After posting my latest applique block for this year's Seattle MQG BOM, I confessed to Jonna, our hostess, that I actually had done plenty of applique back in the day, and of course she wanted to see. I had already posted about one of the quilts when I was a new blogger - a Sunbonnet Sue quilt I made for daughter dear back in 1995.

Well there was actually another that came before - Gazebo Garden, completed in 1993. I'd taken a class with Carolann Palmer, who I can't find anything about on the web, but she was a popular teacher at my local quilt shop at the time.


It was machine pieced where applicable, with needle-turn applique blocks and border, and then hand-quilted. Because for the first 20+ years I quilted, hand-quilting was all I knew.



The quilt measures 94" square and was the first quilt I ever made my mom. Besides the hand-quilting, it also has a muslin backing, since that's all I used to back my quilts for ages. And of course, the binding was bias, because that's what I first learned to make and I just thought it was what one did.


So even though Gazebo Garden might not fit with my current style and taste, it holds fond memories and looking at it at mom's the other day, I realized just how much work went into it! And of course it's a reminder of just how varied this quilting journey of mine has been.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Improv Alliance

Whenever a quilt comes together really slowly - such as a block-of-the-month like the one I'm sharing today - the satisfaction at its completion is usually quite high, for obvious reasons. But this time, there are a couple of extra reasons why I am simply over the moon, and I think you'll see why as we go along.



It all started when my guild-mate, Matt/odditease, presented the 2016 BOM plan for Seattle MQG. In his words, we were going to "exercise our improvisation muscles. We will be exploring nine different shapes/techniques, creating a slab of improv patchwork each month that will come together to become a one-of-a-kind quilt. Ruler free, ruler assisted, wild and crazy, simple and controlled…you get to decide and set your limits and comfort level for each technique." Oh yeah! Matt even had a sample quilt top all ready to show us (yes, go look real quick!), and I was so excited for it all to begin!



But as BOMs go, there's always that lag-time when you need to choose your fabric, right? Wanting to somehow incorporate the Kona Color of the Year into my sewing, Highlight seemed a perfect choice as my focus fabric; Kona neutrals Natural, Bone, and Oyster were chosen for the 'background'; and then Pickle and Wasabi as accents, and Fog for some random pops of color. I loved the mix right off, and throughout the year of sewing, with my only complaint being that the neutrals really were too close, and I doubt you'll be able to pick them out in the finished quilt.


So each month, Matt presented us with an improv technique to try, and a suggested "slab" size. It could really go any direction we took it, and in the end, the indicated sizes were helpful, but as you'll see, non-standard blocks allowed for some more personalization as the blocks were all assembled. Come about September, we were thrown a curve ball and told to make an improv adaptation of a traditional block of our choice! Decisions, decisions. Stay tuned, and I'll share a follow-up post with all the block types I used and links to helpful tutorials.


So month by month, I kept up, and creating my newest improv slab was about my favorite thing. And then..... It came time to put all nine of the slabs together. Yikes. Obviously, there were some holes to fill in (see above), and I mulled that over for days, looking through my books on improv to get some ideas. And lo and behold, it was in Gwen Marston's Liberated Quiltmaking II that I found my solution: Improv Spikes.


I loved that Gwen has unknowingly led me forward, and the spike segments were fun to make. Between trimming blocks and adding in three rows of spikes, my top measured 58" x 82" and surely could have been called complete. But something didn't feel right to me.



What it needed was more width and the logical way to achieve that was with more spikes. I tried adding a narrow column to each side, but no, that didn't suit me. I kept making more and playing with the placement until I was satisfied. And then, boy was I.

 
For a backing, I opted to purchase my very first wide-back, thinking surely there were already enough seams in this crazy quilt. I found a fun design in the perfect color in Starlight, a Rhoda Ruth Wide Back by Elizabeth Hartman for Robert Kaufman.


OK then. The top was done and I was thrilled. The backing had been an easy decision. Now what about the quilting? What design? What color? Goodness, at 68" x 82", it felt big and overwhelming. How in the world would I do it justice? Was this one I should even do myself?



And in a spark of what I consider brilliance, it dawned on me that I should ask Matt himself if he'd consider quilting it for me. He had designed our BOM, led us through the process, and once I thought of it, he was the only logical choice. I didn't even know if he quilted for hire .... so the next time I saw him, I trepidatiously broached the subject. And he agreed!

Now I had been at the guild retreat in 2014 when Matt first dabbled with free-motion quilting. He was a new quilter then, and we were in awe of his obvious gift for every aspect of it. As I handed over my quilt top several weeks ago, we chatted briefly about our ideas for quilting. But I gave him free reign, and never doubted for a moment that whatever he chose to do would be perfect.



So fast forward to last weekend, when he delivered the quilt and we pored over every inch of it, admiring our joint workmanship. 



Quilted on his Juki 2200QVP-S, Matt used Aurifil 50wt in three colors: 2886 (Light Avocado) was used in the upper right-hand block, but he wasn't thrilled with the look, so that's the only area that has it. The majority of the quilt was then quilted with 2000 (Light Sand) with occasional accents of 2715 (Robin's Egg Blue) - see the blue triangle in the left of the photo above, for example.



The use of the neutral thread definitely lets the piecing shine, though Matt's beautiful quilting is in no way hidden. I think it melds them together beautifully, and the bits of blue are just plain fun.



I like how Matt quilted around the spikes, letting them stand out a bit. And one of my favorite details is how he used those large 'pebbles' to create continuity throughout the quilt. You can very nearly follow a trail of them from the top of the quilt down to the bottom, weaving to and fro along the way.


The last detail was up to me, and I added a simple binding in Kona Natural.



And with that, an improv escapade is complete. Begun as a simple exploration of technique, it became so much more, and I gotta say I love the collaboration it represents. From puzzling my own blocks together with Gwen-inspired spikes to finishing off with Matt's quilting artistry, this one has become a cherished piece. Many of the blocks were inspired by age-old designs but as a whole, they became something new and speak to a happening time where working together only made things better.

Quilting by Matt Macomber/[odditease]


This quilt was on my 2017 Finish-A-Long list!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Greenery

So did you hear? Rebecca/Bryan House Quilts and Sarah/No Hats in the House are spear-heading the 2017 Pantone Quilt Challenge featuring the Color of the Year, Greenery!


I've taken time to focus on the COTY for several years now (Tangerine Tango, Emerald, Radiant Orchid, Marsala) and even Rose Quartz + Serenity when no one else wanted to play. So it's really no stretch that I want to join in the fun again this year. And boy am I ready, as daughter dear stocked me up for my birthday! (Let's just say after creating my Crop Circles and Ultimate! last year, my green stash was about depleted!)


Part of the gift was an official Greenery swatch card, which helped her determine Kona Parrot as a close match, along with Aurifil 1114 (Grass Green), so that's where I'll be starting.


I honestly have no ideas yet, but time doesn't need to be too rushed. The challenge runs from March 14 until May 29, 2017, with a link party open during the last ten days. Do check out Sarah or Rebecca's announcement posts for all the details. There are esteemed judges, enviable prizes, and all the key details there, including other suggestions of fabric choices, though nothing really needs to be that perfectly matched, so no worries there. 

So you joining me?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Improv + Paper Piecing

There's a good chance that when you heard the title of Amy Friend's new book, Improv Paper Piecing, you went "what?" just like I did. But really, it's a thing, and Amy/During Quiet Time shares it well as 'A Modern Approach to Quilt Design.'



In Amy's words: "By creating a block from an improvisational sketch and then repeating it methodically  with paper piecing, you harness the power of repetitive design. But because the block design is improvisational, the patterns feel fresh and unexpected."

What a novel thought, right? Besides sharing the expected paper piecing essentials, Amy also shares how to group and number paper-pieced templates, design your own improv block templates, and some advanced paper piecing tips - all so helpful in creating your own masterpiece.

After perusing Amy's book, I can honestly say that I love the quilts she created for it, and that I 'get' her concept. Yes, I totally love improv - the random one-of-a-kind creating one can do with it. But I've often had improv creations that I love so much I really would have liked to recreate them, which is where improv paper piecing comes in and makes that totally possible. Look at it as another option.


Here's one quilt that called to me - Amy's "Sixty Seconds."

Photo by Amy Friend. Used by permission.

Rather than strictly following Amy's quilt design. I chose to use her block patterns and go my own direction - you know, sticking with the improvisational theme, right?



On close inspection, you can see that the triangle blocks are not identical, and fabric placement appears slightly angled. I actually printed the templates at both 100% ("Sixty Seconds" uses them at 150%.) and 75% to add even more variety to my project.

I also scaled down the final project, creating a table runner rather than a full-sized quilt. For quilting, I tried a new-to-me design at a random 50-degree angle - a 'diagonal grid with gentle curves' from Jacquie Gering's Walk book [#walkbook]. I like how it kind of complicates the main elements while still letting them be the focus.

And then I finished it all off with a bit of an accent in the binding. And why not?



It was nice to take a little foray into this new concept of mixing improv and paper piecing and I look forward to exploring it in my own work.
I received a complimentary copy of Amy's book, but be assured that my opinions and recommendations are always my own, and that I would never suggest a product that I don't actually use and enjoy.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Minimal Day :: Fringe

Who would have thought I would be so enamored with this year's Seattle MQG block-of-the-month which is all about needle-turn applique? Certainly not me. Truth is, once this month's assignment was published, I got right on it the first chance I got.



This month's "fringe" block had a little tighter curves than last month's "quarter opals", but definitely manageable. 



The directions for this, our second block, suggested we flip our template for one of the pieces, which I totally forgot in the moment. Oh well. I'm kind of loving it anyway.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Addendum

Well so much for my great commitment to starting out the year planless. I boldly put just two wips on my Q1 Finish-A-Long list, and gave the others (albeit only two) away. That felt good, and I was really hopeful that I could and would improv my way through the year. So about that.


I have made progress on the two wips and am still holding out a thread of hope that I can finish them this month. The Patchwork Forest top (above) is pieced, measuring 65" x 80". I need to come up with a backing and then get quilting. It doesn't need to be fancy, but it'll take some time of course. We shall see.

Below is the finished top of my Seattle MQG improv block-of-the-month from 2016. Brace yourselves.... I sent this one out to be quilted! I KNOW! I've gotten a few sneak peeks, and I love what I've seen. There's still a chance I'll get it back in the next couple of weeks with just enough time to bind it up before the quarter is over. Fingers crossed!


Ok, so that's all the old news. Here's what else I've got going....

So remember, two group quilts were started with the Pantone and Kona colors of the year? One was when I was host for Faith Circle's February do. Good Stitches quilt, and I've just received back all the blocks for that, so this quilt needs finished up soon.


And, I have over 30 gorgeous improv blocks from Seattle MQG for our current giving quilt, all using Kona's Pink Flamingo. Aren't they cool? Sorry, the lighting wasn't the best, but I think you can still get a hint of how awesome they are, right? I'm anxious to get them all up on the design wall!


Stay tuned for a review on Amy Friend's new book, Improv Paper Piecing: A Modern Approach to Quilt Design, coming soon. I'm digesting it a bit with a small project, so you'll see this finished before long.


And lastly, I started the project below for a challenge that's due in May, so I've set it aside for now. The rules are very particular regarding color and size and theme, so I'll share more of this as I go, but at least I have my idea in place. I just need to make it happen.



Whew! I hardly know what to work on first....the maker's dilemma, right?