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.