Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Yellow/Orange/Red Spiral Quilt

That name is probably going to get shortened to "spiral."

I started working on it a few days ago. It's going to have words in it, and since I've never pieced letters before, I was eager to try a few. Here they all are (with scraps on the right). They're tiny little things. They'll finish at only 2 inches high.

To get a grounding in free-pieced letters, I took a good look at Tonya's (Lazy Gal) tutorials. Very helpful! Then, well, I just plunged in.

Because the final letters are so small, and the color differences so subtle, I wanted to make sure they were easily readable. So, most of the letter fabric is fairly accurately cut 1-inch strips, using a rotary cutter and ruler, rather than just completely winging it. The blocky letters with parallel lines came together nicely (T, H, etc.). Letters with angles that did not parallel the edges of the block were, um, shall we say, somewhat challenging. Many of these (like A and W) got forced into right-angled shapes, which they graciously accepted. K, V, and N took more thought. In the end, I didn't worry about where the seams fell and got very recognizable results.

Here is the eventual center of the spiral, plus the word "TAKE," which is the first word of "Take what you have and make what you want." This little saying will be incorporated into the yellow part of the spiral. It's a quote from Roberta Johnson, quoted in Accidentally on Purpose, and exactly describes the quilts I'm making these days.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Finally, the Photos

Here it is, hanging in our dining room!

It still surprises me when I first catch sight of it. It definitely has the impact I was hoping for: graphic punch and then, at a closer look, the surprising stitching.

After it was up, I was straightening the left side and heard a pop. Argh! While hand-sewing the binding to the back, there was one spot where the thread tangled and broke as I was finishing it off. I hoped it would hold, but it didn't. Have to fix that.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Puzzleball Diversion

Christmas Eve day. I needed one last gift. A handmade one. A puzzle ball! (Patchwork Puzzle Balls, by Jinny Beyer.) I've made a few of these little (and not so little) gems, and each one has been entrancing. So, I dug through my stash and pulled out a bunch of fabrics that I'm highly unlikely to use in a quilt but that are perfect for fancy puzzle balls.

The puzzle ball I chose has pentagons separated by triangles (final size of ball: 4-3/4 inches in diameter). Contrast between the pentagons is not necessary. A good thing, since my fancy fabric stash is limited. Here are the pieces. Well.....not exactly, since--oops--I cut these triangles too small.

Sewing well went, though! Not too many set in pieces, so I was able to machine stitch most of the seams. Lots of stuffing later (I used poly, not cotton), I had this:

This next photo shows the final hand-sewn seam to close up the ball (right and lower right). That one is really hard to sew.
One small warning: Despite Jinny's breezy assurances about how easy puzzle balls are to make, they do need precise cutting and piecing, plus plenty of unhurried time for fabric choosing and construction. This one took between 5 and 6 hours.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What a Week!

Whew! I've had a very busy week. I took on a freelance project that we all agreed would take about 10 hours, but it turned out to take 30. I got it done Sunday just before noon and have been catching up with the rest of my life since then. Yesterday, I finished the hand quilting on the stones quilt!

It's off the frame now. I just have to take care of a few loose threads dangling from the back, and then bind it and add a sleeve. When I get it hung up on the wall, I'll post a final photo.

In the mean time, I have a couple of detail pictures.

I learned a bunch of things from this quilt, and one of them is that heavy cotton twill (aka khaki pants) didn't mesh well with the kind of hand quilting I used for the wavy lines. The problem is that the stitches cause the fabric to bunch in a way that creates noticeable vertical texture. This would be fine if that's the look I wanted, but I really had in mind a smoother, more horizontal effect, with more visible quilting lines.

At a distance, the verticalness is even more visible and the quilting even less visible.

This next photo is of the back. Every stitch you see is stab stitch. Personally, I'm truly amazed that the stitches are so well aligned with the stitches on the top. I fully expected them to zig-zag all over. I didn't even take particular care to remember to keep the needle perpendicular to the fabric (which helps a lot to position the needle tip in the right spot). Stitch length varies quite a bit, but it varies almost as much on the top. I just didn't have the patience to be more careful.

Yikes! I still have lots to do this afternoon, and the snow keeps coming down. Better get to it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Morning Views from My Kitchen

It's sunny and a whopping 5 degrees out. These are views from my kitchen's three-season porch. I had to work quickly, because moisture was rapidly condensing on the windows.

We had very wet snow, which dragged down branches. Then the deep cold froze everything in place. The trees and shrubs are showing the damage.
I drove a little bit yesterday--enough to find out first hand how awful the streets and parking lots are. The initial slush froze, so there's treacherous ice everywhere. For the past 24 hours, semis have been jackknifing, cars have been sliding into ditches or each other, and lots of people have ended up in emergency rooms because of falls and snowblower accidents. Tomorrow it should warm up enough for road salt to work.

And yes, I moved to Madison on purpose. Twice. (--sigh--)

Once again, I'm very glad I can work from home today, and I have plenty of quilt projects! Got a little more stab stitching done last night, and am hoping to start the spiral quilt later today.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Yes, It's Winter

We have 14.5 inches of snow (acquired in less than 24 hours). Yesterday, everything except the most essential services was shut down....and a very good thing, too. Now the cold sets in. It was -3 degrees when I got up this morning. The compensation is that it's too cold for clouds, so we have a brilliantly sunny, blue-sky day. Nice to look at, but I'm glad I can work from home.

Hanging around the house is certainly good for making progress on quilt-related tasks, although the stones quilt (not the most inspired name, but that's what I've been calling it) is not yet done. Only 12 more inches to go, but I've had to give my hands and wrists a four-day break from the hard work of pushing and pulling a needle through that tough fabric. Decision: No more hand quilting of khaki pants fabrics!

In the mean time, I'm planning a new project. Requirements:
1. Hand-quilt-able fabrics.
2. No purchases. Stash only.
3. Appropriate for a wall in the kitchen or living room.
4. Usable as a real quilt, too.
5. Cheerful and bright.
6. No templates, no exacting cutting, no matching of seams.

Here's what fits the bill:

I dug out all the reds, oranges, and yellows (the ones on the left are not quite as pale as they look here). I love these colors together! I drew the line at pink. (Frankly, it's a little worrisome to see how many pink fabrics I've acquired.) All are cottons. I don't have many linen fabrics in this color range, and I'd rather not mix the fabric types.

Two-thirds are purchased yardage---languishing in my stash for anywhere from 5 to 20 years. I remember buying several yards of red in 1989 for a planned red-and-white feathered star quilt. All the measuring and matching required to feather a star turned out to be more effort than I seem able to muster. Time to do something else with it. The rest (all the plaids and the stripe) are from thrifted clothing.

The current plan is to use log cabin construction to make a single, very large, square spiral. Each "log" will be pieced from (mostly) square and rectangular patches. Beyond this, I'm making it up as I go along. Which, if I ponder it too much, feels kind of scary.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Few Spirals

I've made some good progress the past few days. I wanted to take a photo of the central rectangle before I turn the poles again. All the visible stitches are stab stitched. The rectangle is 8 or 9 inches wide. (There's very little natural light this morning--the flurries are starting, and we should have a couple of inches by dinner time--and the lamps make these colors look darker than they really are.)

Here's a bit of detail (with the colors skewed the other way), showing one of my attempts at a little person.

The quilting is roughly three-quarters done. Yay! Around this time in a project, I get antsy and start calculating the number of hours of work left. Current estimate: 13 to 15. Total hours will be close to 60. The cutting and piecing probably took another 8 to 10, and I figure 3 or 4 for binding.

Once every few days, my husband wanders in, looks over my shoulder as I quilt, and says, baffled, some variation of "Where do you get the patience for that?" I have no idea.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Current Favorite Book

Since progress on hand quilting is particularly boring to blog about, here's a bit about what else I've been doing---which is, mostly, reading about quilts and thinking about the next top to piece.

My current favorite quilt book, by far, is Accidentally on Purpose: The Aesthetic Management of Irregularities in African Textiles and African-American Quilts, by Eli Leon. It's full of wonderful quilts that I've seen nowhere else. (I really wish I'd known about this exhibition at the Figge Museum, in Davenport, Iowa, and seen these quilts in person.) But perhaps best is that this book has an analytical approach. I keep coming back to it, finding little nuggets of design wisdom and incisive explanations of process. I can learn a lot from these quilts just by looking, but I love having the author describe, for example, how a block is progressively altered and within what limits, or what the quiltmaker has decided to vary or not vary, how things like syncopation and deliberate departure from regularity are used in different ways---all sorts of things I wouldn't see so clearly on my own. The African textiles are beautiful, and the parallels with the quilts are striking. Love this book! Seriously, if you have any interest at all in this kind of quiltmaking, get yourself a copy while it's still in print!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Quilt Update

Scratch that deadline.

After a serious push yesterday, I can see that even spending my maximum number of hours per day will not get this quilt done in less than another week and a half. The patterns are taking way more time than the straight stitching. Oh well.

But it definitely feels better this way. Pressure's off, and my hands and wrists can get a break from the tough, tightly woven twill.

The good news is that I really like how this quilt is shaping up! The camera isn't dealing well with the intense black, and I'm not savvy enough to fix it, but these photos give the range of the patterns I'm stitching. Some are inspired by a little book that's been sitting on my bookshelf for years but I've never really used: African Fabric Design, by Shirley Friedland and Leslie Pina.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Goals and Deadlines

I like goals. Deadlines? Not so much.

But one of my goals (making the stones steps quilt and hanging it on the huge, blank dining room wall) has morphed into a self-imposed deadline. This is probably crazy-making, but I'd really really really like to have it done and hung by Thanksgiving morning.

Theoretically, this is doable. In practice? Hmm.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Stab Stitch Experiment

This quilt is my current active project. Wish I'd taken a photo before I put it on the frame. The sense of perspective is striking. (Credit for the idea for this quilt goes to Loretta Pettway for her quilt shown in The Quilts of Gees Bend, p. 77.)

The fabrics are very dark and very light cotton twill (men's and women's "khaki" pants in their previous life), plus clear pink and clear orange cotton twill (girls' pants in their previous life).

I cut all the orange and pink pieces with a rotary cutter. But all the darks and lights were cut with a pair of scissors and no marking, to purposely provide a little variation in width. I didn't want any of this quilt to be precise.

I'm really into hand quilting these days. I'm finding machine quilting to be too much drudgery, too stressful, too hard on my back and shoulders, too hard on the quilts (most of the fabrics I use are seriously damaged by safety pins), and just generally not how I want my quilting to look.

Fortunately, I'm also seriously into ignoring the Quilt Police and into applying Liberated principles (thank you Gwen Marston!!). Otherwise, I'd never, ever attempt hand quilting this quilt...and I probably wouldn't even have bothered making the top at all.

It's pretty darn thick with all that cotton twill, the flannel backing and the "select" weight Quilter's Dream batting (my local quilt shop no longer carries the "request" weight, and I didn't feel like waiting for shipping). Still, I can do a fairly decent rocking stitch until I get close to the seams. Then, well, it's stab stitch or nothing. I knew this going in and decided I was willing to live with the outcome, whatever it might be.

The zig-zaggy bits are purposely large stitches that shift direction, which is hard to do with the rocking stitch. None of the stitching lines are marked. I'm just winging it. In the beige areas (which I visualize as steps of stone), I wanted gently undulating lines, kind of like layers in sandstone but a little more curvy, that begin and end within each fabric strip. In the dark areas, I just make it up as I go along, keeping in mind ideas of ancient or alien symbols and patterns on African textiles.

To my surprise, the stab stitching looks really good (at least on top). In the photos, there's a mixture of stab and rocking, but I can't tell which is which. The stab stitch is easy to do, and it's just as fast and maybe even faster than the rocking stitch (especially because with the rocking stitch, I put two stitches on the needle, let go of the needle, pick up my jeweler's pliers, pull the needle through, drop the pliers, pick up the needle....). A bonus is that stab stitch can be done in any direction just as easily as any other, which is truly wonderful when your quilt is on a frame. All in all, it's.....liberating!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

As John Lennon Once Said...

"Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans."

Too true.

It's been almost a year and a half since my last post--a time so full of things that had to get done, that quite a few other things just had to go by the wayside, and I was very sorry to find that quiltmaking was one of them.

The good news is that pretty much everything I've been dealing with turned out well. A few highlights: My parents are in the memory care section of a nice assisted living center and doing pretty darn well. My sister and I cleared out their house (packed solid from basement to attic!) and got the stuff and the house sold. I lost my largest freelance client, but gained a wonderful job at the university. And, I'm back working on quilt projects!

To get things rolling on this blog again, here's some quilt content. This is the linen quilt I had just started hand quilting before I got overwhelmed. I finished it a few weeks ago.

And here's some detail, showing the combination of fans and diagonal lines.

This is my first hand-quilted quilt, so I learned a lot. My plans were to stitch all-over freehand fans, not get too focused on precision, and not mark before loading it into the frame. I scratched the lines with a pin, which worked really well, but I found that completely freehand fans were stressing me out. So after a couple of rows, I made a simple cardboard template for the outermost curve, and put the underneath curves in freehand. I felt much better.

Then, even though I liked the fans, I kept wondering what it would be like to quilt straight lines. So, I did sections of diagonal lines, scratched with a pin along the edge of a rotary-cutting ruler. After a while, the logistics of interlocking the chunks of diagonals got a little complicated, so I switched back to fans, and then braved another section of diagonals to finish off the top end.

I really liked hand quilting! I gave up on the left-handed stitching, though. I got pretty good at it, but right-handed was easier and faster. I also gave up on spoon quilting. It places one more layer between me and the quilt, which was annoying, and I really didn't see any net benefit. Yes, it kept my underneath fingers pristine, but holding the spoon was a strain. Turns out that without the spoon, I really don't prick my fingertips very much.

Wow. It's good to be back! More soon.