Tuesday, June 20, 2017

It's Not Perfect, But I Like It Anyway

I was looking around for a quick machine quilting project and remembered the green Floating Squares quilt. It took almost no time to sandwich and pin the top and then of course, why not dive into the quilting? So funny that I finished up the hand quilting on Learning Curves over the weekend too as it has some of the same dark green fabrics used as in the other.
Floating Squares #2 and Learning Curves--ready for binding
Sometimes it happens that way when you make quilts with lots of different fabrics. It's not unusual to see the same piece of fabric in five or more different quilts around here!  The green Floating Squares quilt was a crazy, dive-deep-into-the-stash-tote sort of effort and also, my second time to attempt this sort of process {another of Sherri Lynn Wood's improv. scores}. Honestly, I'm not sure it's any better than the first, but for some reason I like it anyway.  Some of the things I like about it is the fact that it looks truly looks make-do and carefree to me. Kind of 'Gee's Bend-ish'? It's not square, just has roughly trimmed sides and the piecing is absurdly unapologetic in its lack of pretentiousness. If this quilt had been made in a fabulous color palette, I would probably be hand quilting the tar out of it with Perle Cotton and getting ready to hang it on a wall!
The Green Floating Squares is a finish!
I also really like that it has at least two fabrics that have been lurking in the totes for over 20 years and many, many more that are not the least bit new or exciting. That makes me sooo... happy! And brings back lots of memories too, as at least one fabric was used in my very first full sized quilt. I'm always intrigued by the blending of old fabrics with newer, and how even a cactus print fabric can nestle up against a Christmassy fabric in this sort of quilt without looking completely bizarre.
Love the addition of raspberry pink
In fact, in a one or two color quilt, the print often becomes secondary to the value changes in the dominant color. One thing I've discovered for sure, green quilts are tough to make. Wowsers, is it ever hard to make a pretty green quilt unless you stick to the lighter, brighter, clearer greens! It's one of my irresistible colors though. I buy it in every tone and shade, whenever there's opportunity. Greens are so serene and calm, but they can be surprisingly drab and murky too. I'm sure some of you are thinking 'Audrey, it's time to step away from the green fabric tote!'*sigh
Finally found the perfect place to use that strange
butterfly, backing fabric that was given to me!
I will, I will....  But there's no harm in challenging ourselves to step outside of our comfort zones, experimenting with new color palettes or new methods of putting a quilt together. It's often an excellent way to reinforce the hard earned lessons of value and intuitive piecing or play. And more importantly, using the oldy, moldy fabrics makes us feel less constrained to cut and hack into fabric and perhaps make a quilt we regret making. What's to regret about this one? Absolutely nothing!
I snuck away from the bookwork piling up on my desk to write this post. Guess it's probably time to get back to work! Linking up with Linda and Julie Lou at Sew, Stitch, Snap, Share #6. After all this dabbling in darker, more intense colors the past couple months, I'm about ready to start a brand new low volume quilt just to get myself back on an even keel!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Applique Prep

Time to pull out the Solids Challenge project and get back to work! There hasn't been any progress on this quilt for over a year now. Oops! How does that happen?
Solids Challenge applique prep
I spent a couple hours {yes hours!} this week cutting and auditioning different colors for the remaining five blocks, trying to ensure a wee bit of balance. A little bit of fabric was wasted, but not much. At first I was only trying to get a single block ready for stitching and then realized how difficult this was going to be if the color balance wasn't addressed right now. The prep work is totally done now, and unless I get a driving urge to change something up, it's all ready for motivation to come calling.

This solid fabric thing is definitely not my forte. At least twice I plopped a piece of printed fabric down onto a block and considered booting the entire challenge. Oh well, it is my challenge after all. But no...  I'm not a quitter.  After the blocks are stitched {on printed background fabric, did you even notice?}, the using-only-solids-plan is going to go bye bye. Maybe someday I'll upgrade to an all-solids quilt, but for now, it kinda makes my eye twitch. Or something.
A Folksy Flower border
I have a feeling that stitching on the solids isn't gonna happen real soon. Too many irons in the fire around here. You see, I also found time to prep for my next border on the Folksy Flower. It's been a slow-go project too, but I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. This particular border is going to be very quick stitching so yep, that means it's probably up next. I just can't help myself. A speedy little finish is actually great motivation to move on to the next project.

There is also some improv. basket handles I'm sneaking in here and there and don't forget about the Blue Plumes quilt. It's quietly waiting in the hand work bag too. Oh man, do I love applique. You have no idea how many applique ideas are simmering in the back of my head. Just this morning when my husband left for work {way too early for normal people to be awake} my mind jumped onto the perfect solution for a quilt project I'd drawn up months ago. Ideas for the fuzzy bits have been dancing in and out of my brain forever and all of the sudden I went from sleepy to 'where is my notebook and ink pen? Quick! Write this idea down before it gets lost in the ether!' It really pays to be ready when everything clicks into place. We always think we'll remember the details next time we get in the quilt room, but no. Those ideas, they slip, slip, slip away all too easy.....

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Yay! Another Quilt Crossed Off the List!

Another finish today! This one is 'An Uncertain Crossroad' started back in March 2015 as a Marsala color challenge. I'd been slowly collecting the drab, clay/maroon looking fat quarters for awhile {who knows why?} and jumped at the chance to incorporate them into a quilt.
Uncertain Crossroad is finished!
The quilt design had a couple influences {click on the link above for the first idea}. Together with the color challenge and a bit of secondary inspiration, it just sort of melded into something that felt right. I had a lot of fun stitching this particular quilt and the brighter, sparky circles still make me smile.
So graphic and fun!
One thing I've definitely discovered over the years is this: if you are continually drawn in to a specific color or color family and you don't know why? Don't sweat it. Just buy the occasional fat quarter in those colors and eventually, maybe even a couple years down the road, you really will find a way to build them into a quilt! It's actually quite fascinating to dig challenging prints/colors out of the stash totes and finally be able to bring them to life.
Love it laying in the sunlight....
Sometimes in very surprising ways! You can see that the color family {mixed medium and dark tones} of marsala is used as the background fabrics with the lighter strippy cross sections in what I'd call the lighter version of marsala--mostly mauves, light and/or dull pinks. Some of those fabrics seemed destined to remain in the stash totes forever as they were so... boring! Surprise, surprise!

Used in this pattern, all the colors, including the sparky colors used for contrast, make for a bold, unexpectedly graphic quilt. Who would have thunk it that marsala could be used in such a way! I certainly never would have.

I have returned again and again to Roderick Kiracofe's 'Unconventional and Unexpected' book as a way to soak in some wonderful make-do quilts and ponder the effects of this type of piecing. It's something I personally adore and have tried to incorporate into my quilting. If you click on that second link above, it will take you to a older post with the inspiration from this book. I bought the book sight unseen and have never, ever regretted it. Some books are important and meant to be on our bookshelves.
Love the circus poster below where the tiger is roaring! 
This quilt was deliberately put together in a 'not quite perfect' manner that nonetheless required matching cut-to-size background units. I would have to say, this is one of my favorite quilts ever made, in how the various prints ebb and flow throughout the quilt. The effect is probably more obvious in person, but there is a great, {subtle} background texture that would not be possible with a one-fabric background. Or probably the hand quilting?*wink
A close up of the circles and that perfect striped binding!
I was amazed to find the perfect striped fabric for binding in the bottom of one of my totes. I couldn't have found anything more perfect for the quilt, bought for a border that never worked out! Finishing this quilt makes me think about other ways to play with backgrounds and even possibly the idea of attempting another color challenge quilt some day. It feels like a good finish. Not giving this one away!

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Mind Bending Patchwork Doodle

So this is the Improv. project I impulsively dove into back in January. It's score #4 in Sherri Lynn Wood's 'The Improv. Handbook for Modern Quilters', something I am very slowly trying to wade my through, chapter by chapter. Sherri has a lot to say about improv. of course, and one of the things that resonates the most with me is when she says it's important to learn to 'trust our process of self discovery'.
The Patchwork Doodle is a completed quilt top!
The 'Patchwork Doodle' focuses on working with one simple shape at a time and then moving on to another, all without planning beyond the row {or shape} currently being assembled. The idea being that inevitably, we will recognize a theme starting to develop. It's a bit of a mind bender and I confess to having to take lots of breaks with this quilt. This is not a process I feel super comfortable with {understatement of the year!} and yet it's one that I'm sure will help me in my journey to make ever more unique and interesting quilts.
Letting it sit and marinate...
Eventually I got to the point of almost having a firm idea of the end result, but then got hung up on the fact that it was turning out to be square. Not my favorite shape in a quilt and so I experimented with adding more negative space, thinking that would be an easy way to make the quilt longer. I even considered adding in another row of simple shapes. Everything I played with seemed to make the quilt less 'me', more pretentious or forced looking, perhaps even cold looking. Nope! Back to the squared quilt shape and yes, probably a more traditional look. Totally fine by me.

It's a completed quilt top as of late this afternoon and I definitely have some mixed feelings about the final result. On one hand, it feels amazing to reach this point. How did I get here from that odd start on the design wall? I'm guessing the process of 'self discovery'?*wink  Making all those little design decisions along the way really did eventually develop into a theme. Finally! Tough to recognize at first and it felt like I was wandering around in the dark an awful lot. Maybe this will work? Or that? Like I said, lot of breaks and marinating time involved in this project.
Playing with some negative space.
At some point I realized that incorporating applique and even those classic, quarter log cabin blocks into the quilt made all the difference in the world to how the quilt reflects my personality and vision back at me--no matter the new and different colorway used. Letting one design decision inform the next one is not altogether new to me, as most of you know, but this was a slightly different process and one that raised a lot of insecurities. Moving from one simple block to the next one without even the slightest idea of where I was headed, was hard. I had to consciously shut my brain off and just go with the flow of basically whatever popped into my head and whatever fabric felt right in my hand. Trust that no matter the decision made, it wouldn't be a deal breaker. New units could be added to the quilt, cut up and reassembled, or even scrapped, but that decision would not be made until after the sewing was done and even after I had a chance to see how they played with the previous units made.

To be honest, I don't think it would have worked except for the stack of fabric used was something I trusted. Yeah, it was different, but I already had a relationship with it! This may be the main disadvantage to working with prints instead of solids. The fact that you can't just randomly pull some blendy prints in specific color ranges and make something compelling. It takes a interesting stack of fabric to add depth and feeling to a quilt. The adding to or taking out over a period of time {however long that may be} is what creates a mood of sorts. This is the probably the biggest lesson learned since starting to work with improv. If there is a stack of fabric that has a story to tell, then I can more easily trust the design decisions necessary to grow a quilt. This is becoming an increasingly important part of the quilting process to me {no matter the method of implementation}, though maybe not so much to you. We all have our ways!
Draped over the railing
This particular stack included a vintage floral, a recycled mans shirt, various checks and plaids, modern prints, small novelty prints and even some oldish blendy fabrics from years deep in the stash totes. I've been working on expanding my ideas about which prints might play well together, trying to open up to and be braver about partnerships that would have scared me a couple years ago. The colors in this quilt were an odd blend, really a big challenge in lots of ways too, but seemed fascinating and intriguing all the same. Have you noticed that I like challenges? They pulled at me. Made me wonder. Maybe that's why it was easy to push them into an improv. quilt and see what happened.

Being intrigued made it easier to grab fabrics and just start cutting. Oh look! Don't these two fabrics look wonderful together? I took Sherri's advice and used a single cut of fabric for the negative space. Not something you often see in a quilt of mine, but it was necessary for this exercise. It made the quilt more cohesive--put less pressure on the prints to be well behaved!
Loving the bright corners!
Seriously, someday I'm gonna get braver about working with solids, but for now I'm having a ball challenging myself to work with various printed fabrics. Those mixed feelings about my quilt top? How about the way my quilt looks so very different from all the other Patchwork Doodle quilts? They're all wonderful looking with their strong, bold slices of solid fabrics. Why do I always have to march to my own drum? Did I even follow the exercises correctly? Maybe my quilt looks stupid.
One of the Patchwork Doodle quilts in the book.
Oh who cares! Some of the greatest quilts ever made have been completely unique to the world of quilting at the time they were made. The fact that my quilt turned out to be so different looking is actually a good thing. It's personal and unique. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. It means that I'm capable of inserting personal 'style' into a fixed process and not ending up with a carbon copy. It's called creativity. hehe  Believe you me, I'm just beyond relieved that there wasn't a whole pile of fabrics ending up in the garbage.*whew!
A major accomplishment, getting to this stage!
And my daughter has already laid claim to the quilt whenever it gets sandwiched and quilted. Which at this point in time means about two years from now? Hmmm... it seems I've taken another detour from my finish-more-than-I-start goals.....

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Coins and Baskets a Good Journey Toward Completed Quilt Top

Once I changed direction with this quilt project, then it started going together like a well oiled machine. It finally dawned on me that these colors feel completely comfortable to me. It used to be my safe zone for so many years and so there is almost zero drama involved in the process. {Or challenge or real inspiration}  Aha! That's what I thought initially, but then had to reconsider by the end.
The middle part of Coins & Baskets
My daughter refers to this quilt as one of 'my old lady quilts'. I'd prefer to call it the antique influence or a cozy, homey look. But yes, I'll admit to drifting away from these colors for quite some time now and starting to embrace the lighter, more colorful palette my daughters prefer. Quilters do have the option of evolving and growing you know and part of that is reverting back {on purpose} when desired. It's always an interesting exercise because it feels like going straight back to our roots--often our comfort zone. And that's a simple place to easily make comparison within the basics and perimeters of our process.

As I've mentioned before, the coin sashing was cut and sewn together very improv. style {a relatively new-to-me process} and then carefully cut into the proper measurements required to make a 3-row wide block of  6" x 8" sashing. The original plan was a dud, color-wise, and so the project ended up being split into two quilt tops. It just couldn't seem to be resolved with the combined elements previously proposed. These baskets seemed like a no-brainer with these particular sashing colors, and so the quilt evolved. A basket pattern was drawn from a quilt in 'Treasures From The Barn' book by Linda Collins. It had to be made larger to fit in with my quilt plan and also the handle was changed to make it wider. Why not if that's what I prefer!
Adding on an outside border
When I started sewing the quilt layout together, I ended up taking out some of the extra coin sashing blocks that would have enclosed every basket block, sort of stripping down the busyness of the quilt {see the first picture}. It happened almost without conscious thought {actually, quite a few of the design decisions did}, which was quite interesting. Normally I spend some serious time making a decision like that, but this time I was just doing. Then once the process was fully realized, I just sort of shrugged my shoulders and continued on.

With this part of the quilt sewn together, I could have quite easily folded it up and called it a finish. Very cute and it feels pulled together in all the important ways. But.... you know me. The quilt was too small {52" X 71"} which totally annoyed me. I get irritated at little quilts that force us to decided if we want our torso covered or perhaps our toes? And also, there was approx. 25 coin sashing units left which really bothered me. What a waste!
Coins & Baskets a finished quilt top
It was quickly determined to add the extra coin sashing blocks on as an outside border. Perhaps not the best design decision, but I personally love how that imperfect border looks. It looks especially wonderful to me close up, such as how we would view it if perhaps the quilt was 'in-use' and laying across our laps. Working with coins was the original challenge {later amended with Kaja's challenge to combine with a second block} and it felt right to include the leftover blocks. This felt important, trying to include all the coin sashing without wasting or abandoning them. Sort of a nod to the old utility style of quilts that I love.
The border just makes me happy
While not a fabulous or particularly exciting quilt top, this one feels like a rather good finish. It has definitely served its purpose in underlining some basic things about my quilting process. While working practically on auto-pilot through much of the decision making, I later realized how incredible that actually is. Not obvious to anyone but me, the single most interesting thing about this entire project was how working with these specific colors felt like slipping on well-worn shoes. Other design decisions seemed far less complicated in the immediate comparison. Ding, ding! I needed that realization as I so often tend to over-think and complicate matters.

Am I making sense at all? The final result in regards to this quilt is this: I'm quite happy with the antique mood of the fabrics and elements mixed into the quilt. The make-do look to the stacked coins in the border just make me inexplicably happy which gives me permission to leave the quilt  'as-is' rather than removing the outside border like some might think would be necessary. It might not be perfectly balanced, perhaps it doesn't make sense to others or it might even be considered a dull looking quilt now that I've inserted the rest of the coins. That doesn't matter because quilts down the line will no doubt be the better for this little exercise. I needed to see this border to understand.

We need to continue to emphasize making for our own pleasure and knowledge--let the process take us to the next level in its own sweet time. There's no shame in adding another 'learning and growing' quilt top to the stack and in fact it could be considered a positive thing. There will be many of these before we make that rare fabulous quilt and then many more mistakes, learning and challenges met before the next great quilt. I'm determined to show my struggles along with my successes, record them along the way. How about you?

Linking to Sew, Stitch, Snap, Share!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Making Progress on 17 UFO's

Knowing May would be a busy month, I worked hard on my 17 ufos in 2017 list early on in the month. It felt good to knock two quilt tops right off the list: Rising Sun and the Improv. Woven Basket
Two more finished quilt tops!
And all through the month I made myself keep plodding away at the Vintage Coxcomb blocks too. The star pieces took a surprising amount of time and it took forever to figure out the most efficient way to get them into place. Finally after sewing {and then seam ripping} the fifth block, I got smart and marked the circle shape onto each block. It's not a perfect solution, but it really helped with placement of the star tips, of which I did not want to be same-o, same-o from block to block. There seems to be enough variation to satisfy my imperfect soul and now I'm just looking at sewing the circle shape onto the remaining 10 blocks. This part is easy and by the end of the month I should definitely be playing with layout!
Vintage Coxcomb blocks
Learning Curves is in the hoop and making very slow forward progress as well. There have been a lot of interruptions the last couple weeks and also, I've been focusing a lot on the applique projects. All my hand work time seems to be in the late evening and there often is a choice that has to be made, applique or hand quilting? Occasionally, the applique wins out, especially if I'm really pushing a project completion such as with my Vintage Coxcombs blocks above.
Learning Curves in the hoop
This latest border on Folksy Flowers was a mixed applique/pieced border and so of course it had to be slipped into the queue too. I tell myself, 'Oh it's just a little bit of hand work' and then three days later I finally finish up.*groan   There will be two more rows added onto each corner of the quilt and then there will probably be one large row to enclose the entire quilt. I've been trying to make sure the corners of each of the latest rows are not cut out on the bias, but there definitely is a bit of wonkiness with this quilt. Hopefully not enough to ruin the quilt! Crossing my fingers with this one.....
Folksy Flowers border
So that's that. Two more items marked off the list and forward progress on three others. Not bad for a crazy, busy month!
Marking things off the list!
Time to link up with Meredithe and other fellow quilters over at Pomegranate and Chintz!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Living With Quilts

Memorial Day is a very busy time for us. We generally drive up into the mountains to an old boy scout lodge about 2 hours away. Our church  rents it for a large church/family campout we've been hosting for almost 30 years. It's great fun for the teenagers and young children especially, and the very best thing about it these days is that there is NO cell service. Young and old benefit from that in ways we would have never believed 30 years ago!
Can't believe I took a hand pieced quilt camping, but
hey, it practically jumped out of the pile wanting to go...
Yep. Everyone has to make eye contact and learn how to communicate again. I always take my quilting bag with grand intentions to do some hand work and do you know, it almost never makes an appearance. Just too much going on or I'm feeling too comfy by the fire to want to move. Oh well. I get a special bit of pleasure walking into my camp trailer and seeing the quilt chosen for use during the weekend. Did you honestly think I'd go camping without a quilt? Once upon a time I thought to keep a couple quilts strictly for camping purposes, but it's just too much fun to choose out 'the quilt' necessary to keep my 'not-really-a-camping-sort-of-girl' spirits up. Though it always surprises me how much fun it is to actually get away from it all and totally unplug!

Most years we have overnight guests just before we leave for camping {or directly after}, as many of our friends and family from out of town randomly attend our annual church camp. Since we don't have a a guest room, my daughter generously gives up her bedroom and always does a great job making it look welcoming. Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I walk into her bedroom. Wowsers! It could be a magazine picture and it's actually my house! hehe  The rest of the house is not nearly as cool looking, I assure you.
Love seeing this log cabin quilt in use! Such a wonderfully classic look!
Okay, best get off the computer and get back to work. There's piles of laundry to do and a camp trailer to finish unloading. Good things there's still a few cookies left...


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