Sunday, December 29, 2013

Rules? What fun!

"Rules are made to be broken" has always seemed an odd adage, though I have broken my share of rules--usually unintentionally but, still, my share have been broken.   I think perhaps it has been a matter of the "why " of rule breaking.  The intent determines the quality of the breaking and, when it comes to fiber arts and quilting, the creative intent makes all the difference; breaking rules just for the sake of breaking them seems unnecessarily disrespectful of the artists and craftsmen who have come before us and established the rules--though that establishment was likely as unintentional as my breaking!

Sometimes I break rules unintentionally, conjuring unexpected creative opportunities.  At least,I allow them to be creative opportunities after I have explored some colorful turns of phrase.  After making mistakes I learned to figure out what I could do to work the happy accident into a new design, instead of "fixing a mistake."  I didn't always approach it this way, especially in quilting (in which I have the most experience) and I have unfinished projects to prove it!   Over the years I have seen and heard quilters who are desperately seeking just a bit more of a particular fabric to finish a quilt.  I will grant you that there are times when you don't want to explore new design opportunities but most of the time my quilts have benefited from stepping back when I make a mistake, looking at the design, and then looking at it again from another angle (sometimes literally).  I have learned to not make the suggestion to other quilters, though, unless I know them well; I have gotten horrified looks from some when I have suggested substituting another fabric from their stash.   It is what our foremothers would have done, out of necessity; think of all the antique and vintage quilts we cherish for just those qualities that we sometimes reject in modern times.  They are those bits of fabric or design that cause us to wonder what happened so the quilter did that.  Quilts (and, I think fiber creations as well) are all about stories, and these accidental designs tell such interesting stories!

Sometimes we break rules with a specific intent to come up with something new and different, trying out the "what if?" possibilities.  In this case I think it might be better if we do this after we know some very basic rules, for the sake of some structural integrity, if nothing else.   Judith Mackenzie, a marvelous spinner and fiber artist, tells of a teacher she had who allowed students a certain number of happy accidents and after that they had better be able to tell her why they were doing what they were doing differently.   I adore looking at "what if," and given all the wonderful new ideas and techniques that fellow quilters and fiber artists are coming up with, it's not an uncommon activity.(I'm constantly amazed and admiring of people who have developed techniques that, even when shown how to do them, seem inconceivable--how did they come up with these things?)

Over the past few days I have immersed myself in a gluttony of how-to videos, because I have a great deal to learn and learning is one of my favorite things.  Watching them in such rapid succession has made it apparent that experts have different rules about the same things, and they are sometimes in direct conflict.  What one expert explains as a "must" another expert will say, "What a waste of time!"  

 Granted, this can be a confusing thing for beginners in a craft if they aren't experienced enough to know head from tails.   The key is to try them out for ourselves and find out what works best for us, personally.  That takes time and practice, and as a person with a very short attention span who wants to know how to do something and wants to do it well NOW that can seem a daunting prospect.  But happy accidents along the way make the practice a joy.  Any art that has hard and fast rules, with artists who always follow them, will not advance or stay truly alive and thrive, or tell a good story.

Breaking rules--what fun!!  I'm all for it.  I don't do New Year's resolutions but if I did, I would make one to break some rules in quilting, spinning, weaving, and any other fiber-y activities I undertake.

The videos:

I am enrolled in a many Craftsy classes about quilting; the videos I've been watching the past few days have been about spinning and weaving because I'm still very much a beginner in those areas.  They are all available from Intervweave and yes, I have bought a lot of videos--these aren't all of them--but mostly over a period of 2 or 3 years; I just revisit them:

How I Spin, Rita Buchanan

The Gentle Art of Plying, Judith Mackenzie

A Spinner's Toolbox, Judith Mackenzie

Weave a Good Rug, Tom Knisely

Loom Owner's Companion, Tom Knisely

Spin Art, Jacey Boggs

Spin to Weave, Sarah Lamb

In Praise of Simple Cloth, Rita Buchanan

From Wool to Waulking, Norman Kennedy  (Mr. Kennedy has some great stories and memories of spinning and weaving over 60 years, beginning as a young man in Scotland)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Top Ten Thanks

I am thankful for many, many things but for this blog it seems appropriate to express thanks for those things around quilting and fiber arts; I am thankful today--and every day:

1) for Family, whose support is ever-present:  for Mom and Dad, who taught me that I could do whatever I set out to do--and respected that I could decide what that was; for my siblings, who love me in spite of myself and encourage me in ways large and small (and always "have my back");

2) for Mom, who taught me to sew, knit, crochet, embroider--among many other things;

3) for Friends, who help me to laugh, who hold my hand when I need to cry, and who just seem to always be there when I need them;

4) for all the Quilters and Fibert Artists, beginners to masters, who inspire me every day with their talent and creativity;

5) for Quilters and Fiber Artitsts who give of their time and talent to those who need kindness and comfort;

6) for Quilt Shop Owners and Staff, who have shared so much and given me so much;

7) for Designers of all those gorgeous fabrics and fibers with which we get to work;

8) for Inventors who create the technology that makes it all easier, from rotary cutters (and rulers!) to longarm machines to beautiful and functional spindles, wheels, and looms;

9) for the Internet and the World Wide Web, which give us ready access to an unimaginable wealth of resources and opportunities for sharing and inspiration;

10) for all the People in the world who love quilts and knitted, crocheted, spun and woven pieces.

I am thankful for it all, and especially for all of you; Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ten for Ten

I'm 10 for 10 on my 10 for 10 challenge! 

A few weeks ago I challenged myself to design 10 quilts from 10" squares.  (All right, I already had a couple of designs completed, and one pattern published, with another in the works.)

I confess that I actually designed 15 or 20 quilts over the course of those weeks, but I decided it would be nice to actually LIKE all the designs, so it took some time and I learned a few more things to put in my designing toolbox.  You likely have learned other things, or things diametrically opposed to what I found works for me.  Then again, maybe these same things won't work for me next week.  That's the fun of designing, isn't it?

Here are 3 methods I used to get at the initial designs:

1) Pull out some 10" squares, cut them up and sew them in different ways.  Or, sew them and cut them up in different ways.  Putz.  Play. Toss them out and start again.

2) Start with a design in EQ, and then try to figure out how to piece it.  This one can be rather fun, but it can also be rather frustrating.  I'm pretty much math- capable but when you start doing seams on top of seams on top of seams on top of inserts on top of diagonal seams, well....then it's off to method #1.  Pull out the squares and just start putzing away on them until it comes out as you envisioned it--or something close to it.

3) Picture something in your head, then try to make it work using either method 1 or method 2.  What you see in your head at 3 a.m. does not necessarily translate into a usable or attractive end.  Sometimes it's just ghastly. 

Some of the time it works out just as you planned, and sometimes it doesn't, but even then a little more hacking, er, cutting and sewing yields a serendipitous prize.  I won't show you the piece from the original thought process (I think it was merely dull, not ghastly) but here's what happened when I did some more cutting; it wasn't square because of the cutting, so I just kept make slices and inserts until it was square, and then did some rearranging.  These are test blocks, and don't necessarily use the fabrics I would choose for the end.   So, this is #7.2, after 7.1 alpha test (and beta, for that matter) failed:

I'm not sure what my next design challenge will be; half of my 10 for 10 designs are pieced now, and others will be pieced over the next few weeks.  But in the meantime, what shall the next challenge be?  Any ideas for me?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Confessions of a Quilter

As I was traveling across the state this week, thinking about a class I'm teaching this week, I had reason to think about why I make some quilt patterns over and over again, and can't wait to finish just one of other patterns (if I finish it at all).  None of chooses all the same patterns as favorites as do other quilters, so it certainly is related to everyone's personalities and preferences.  I can put quilt patterns into four categories.  These are categories that are illustrative of my short attention span and other personality...quirks.   Your categories would likely be different.

1) Can't Make Enough of Them/Have Radar That Sees Perfect Fabric for Them.
I love patterns or techniques that are one block, structurally, but yield a different-looking block each time.  My first experience was Bethany Reynolds' "Stack 'n Whack," and I made plenty of them.  Then I discovered H.D. Design's "Four Patch Stacked Posies" and I like those even better--and made even more of them.   A few years ago I found  Maxine Rosenthal's "One Block Wonders," and I've been making them ever since; here's the most recent:

Crazy quilt blocks are all different, and there is almost unlimited opportunity to make it your own.  Love 'em.

Improvisational piecing is intriguing, because everything is a little different as you're cutting and piecing.

Oddly, though, I don't especially like to make sampler quilts.  No idea why.

2) Wonderments: Techniques/Rulers that Make Difficult Blocks Easy.
Top of my list these days:  Rapid Fire Lemoyne Star Ruler.  If you have followed my Facebook page you know that I can't seem to make enough of these.   And I bought a Christmas panel on a shop hop last weekend that I plan to dress up with Lemoyne Stars. 

Twister quilts are great fun because that twist turns a "fabric" of plain squares into something that looks hard, but it is easy, easy, easy.  (Sorry, Jeanine, I know this one is in the "Never Will Do Again" category for you.)

3) Classics.  They're classics for a reason.   Who doesn't love a Nine Patch?

4) Never Will Make Again.  All right, it was an experience, and I learned something, even if it is that I will never make another one.   I may even LOVE the quilt, but still know it's the only one. These tend to be very complex, and probably a great many small pieces, especially if there are a great many of the same block, with the same fabric.   It's not that I can't make them, it's that my attention span starts getting a little (or a lot) snarky with me.  And short. I make a block, been-there-done-that, let's move onto something else.

5) Stash Squatter.  It's still in pieces, in my UFO stash.  The odds are staggeringly high that I will never finish the darn things.  No disrespect to the patterns or the designers, they just aren't MY thing, but are right up the alley of other (better!) quilters than I.

6) Bore-dered.   Have I mentioned the short attention span thing? (My friend John says it's really just a heavy tendency toward multi-tasking. Thanks, my friend, for 30+ years of putting a positive spin on my quirks.)  I find that I am moving more toward Quilts Without Borders.   I can't tell you many quilt tops are sitting in my studio, waiting for borders.   It seems that when I finish the main part of the top I'm ready to be finished.  Bored.  (Have I mentioned the short attention span?  Oh, I have?)  Sometimes a quilt screams for a border or two, and sometimes it's happier without.  Or, maybe it's me that's happier without it.  I'll own that.

So what, you ask?   Why worry about categorzing? I find that it's easier for me to buy patterns/books/rulers that I will actually use if I'm more aware of my own quirks and limitations.    Goodness knows I have patterns/books/rulers I bought before I had figured out all of this.  Once in awhile I'm seduced by something I'll never make but they end up as just more  "decor" in my studio.

How would you categorize quilt patterns in your mind?  Hey, we might find that we can trade some of those unused patterns and books and rulers, if yours are quite different from mine!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

No Hasty Retreat

It's quilt retreat season, at least in my neck of the woods.  (I don't know about any local-ish spinning/weaving retreats; maybe I can work on that next year.)   For unknown reasons, this year I'm noticing more how my quilting friends approach a retreat.  I'm definitely a lightweight.

Me?  The night before a reatreat, or maybe even the morning of, I turn around in my studio a few times and grab a few project bags.  I could turn 100 times, stopping at every compass direction, and still not be out of UFOs outside my reach.    I grab a sleeping bag, pillow, towel and flashlight, load up my sewing machine and chair, a few rulers and rotary cutter, and I'm on my way.  (I always have my electronic gadgets for audiobooks, so I don't have to think about that.)

However, not so with many of my quilting buddies.  Months ago they started cutting out quilts for retreat.  "Seriously?  We're barely into the same YEAR as the retreat!"  Weeks before the reatreat they start to ask if I'm ready for retreat.  The answer, any day before the first day of the retreat, is "no."  (Or, yes, depending on how you look at it--with my method, I can load up and go to a retreat on very short notice.  I've never been invited to a spontaneous retreat, though.  Hmm.  That might be kind of an interesting concept to pursue.)

Once at the retreat the differences become more noticeable.  The bunkrooms and cabins are filled with very homey quilts and homemade pillowcases, rugs outside the shower in the bathroom, and sewing stations that rival the coziest, most efficient workstations that any quilter could wish for.

You could look at my approach as spontaneous, efficient, economical.  Or, you could look at it as bad planning on my part.  (I'm going with the former, but feel free to make your own choice about that.)  In any case, this time I'm going to try my friends' approach and see if it works for me.  Of course, I' already behind because I didn't start cutting out months ago, and didn't start packing weeks ago.  (In my defense, I do sometimes think to myself, "I suppose I could this at a retreat."  I've not kept track of how often that results in it accompanying me to a retreat but my best guess is that the number is not very high.  Have I mentioned that I have a LOT of UFOs?)

So, I'm asking all of you, dear readers, to help me out with adopting your approach. (I know, there's not much time.)   Here's what I've done so far:

1) Made a Nancy Drew pillowcase.  I'm a retired librarian, and there aren't many women my age who didn't absorb every Nancy Drew.  There were other candidates for the retreat--notably one of the hotochocolate pillowcases I made this week--but I think Nancy is going to win out.  Maybe I'll make a pillowcase for every retreat!

2) Started pulling out UFOs to take.  One must always take more projects than one could possibly complete--that's a retreat law.  It's also necessary for me and my short attention span.   While adding to this pile, I excavated some projects that I had LONG forgotten about, and cleared off a shelf.  There is every possibility (well, probability) that that shelf is going to fill up again when I get back and put the UFO right back on the shelf.  But I expect credit for the intent.

3) Cut out a quilt for a new pattern.  My friend Jeanette, who plans ahead for these things, will have me beat on this one by about 37 quilts, but sometimes you have to start small.

4) Thought about a quilt I might take with me, to put on my bed.  But do I have to color coordinate it?  Go with scrappy?  Decisions, decisions....

5) Gathering chocolate and tea bags.  That will make my sewing station home for me.  :-)

So, what else?  I suppose I could pack some sheets, and use those instead of a sleeping bag.  My roommates might welcome the absence of the rustling of the sleeping bag when I toss and turn.  I'm going to opt out of sewing/quilting my own sheets, though.

Maybe this retreat I'll be at least a medium-weight.  Next time I could....wait, I could weave rugs for the cabin, and under my feet in the sewing lodge.  Then I could......create a quilting monster??

What do you take to a retreat that makes it feel cozy and warm for you?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Getting the better of my stash (Let it go, Karen!)

You may remember from a previous post that I'm trying to get the scrap chaos in my studio under control, and spiffify the space. (You know you all understand what that word means.)  Part of that is a pledge to not have more scraps of any one color than will fit in the fabric bins I'm making.  That I did not put a deadline on that pledge is not an oversight.   One day I'll decide on a deadline.

I'm not a quilter who can take a pile of scraps and systematically cut them into standard sizes; it's just not going to happen.  I'll cut leftovers from cutting projects but I just won't do it with an existing pile of scraps.  (And I also realized this week that I have YET to use any of those standard-sized strips and scraps that I've cut anyway.  Getting control of those controlled scraps is the next step.)  So, my answer?  Crazy patchwork blocks--utilitarian crazy blocks.  (They'll be fun and pretty--I hope--but won't have all the embellishment usually associated with crazy quilting.)  Semi-crazy, maybe?  The point is that the pieces can be fairly large, and I'll make my way through the scraps more quickly.  That was the plan.  It doesn't seem to be working as quickly as I had anticipated but...ever onward.

I just grabbed a few scraps from each of the color-sorted stacks of larger scraps and got to work.   Part of the challenge is to use all the scraps, whatever color or intensity or saturation.  It will all work together in the end. 

The biggest challenge for me, surprisingly, is letting go of small, small scraps.  I have pieced little tiny crazy blocks because I felt guilty about not using every little bit of fabric in a quilt.  I still don't like to "waste" fabric by throwing it away but I need to let the itty bitties go.  I can release them to the folks who make dog beds from fabric and batting scraps but I NEED to let them go.  It's hard for me!

Scraps this size?  Let them go, Karen.  Yes, you could make a little tiny crazy piece but then what are you going to do with it?   Release it to the comfort of our canine friends.

And when I trim the edges of a block?  That is always the end of the line--I won't debate about whether or not the piece is big enough to use in another block.  Let it go, Karen.  (Oh, but what about that red piece on the lower left corner?? It might be big enough.)  Just let it go.  :-)

So, in the end I have blocks that aren't masterpieces but will make a fun quilt. (Do I want to use sashing between the blocks?  I haven't decided yet.)  If I make a block every day or two, I'll get there.

In the meantime I need to make some more fabric bins.  I can use scraps for that, can't I?

How do YOU control your scrap stash? If you're one of those quilters who can cut those standard sizes--and then use them--boy, do I admire you!  I wish I knew how you do it!

Sunday, September 8, 2013


Since retiring from public employment I've decided it's high time I organized by quilting studio--again. (You understand what I mean, right?)  It's in the basement, with no windows and some unhandy-man construction and decorating from previous owners. (I could tell you stories--but that's another story.)  Until I can afford a complete gutting and reworking I'm looking to make some small, gradual changes that will better organize and "perk up" the space.  No, it isn't a stalling tactic so that I don't have to pull everything off the shelves and do some rigorous purging.  Not much, anyway.

While I was in Cedar Rapids waiting for Nolting to do routine maintenance on Bertha Longarm I stopped at the local quilt shop and found a pattern for a bin made from fabric and, eureka!   I can make a bin for all the large-ish scraps that are just on mesh shelves, next to the larger yardage of fabric.

Each bin is going to be made from fabric to match the color of scraps that will be stored in them, so I need one for reds, golds/browns, greens, blues, and purples.  And neutrals.  Oh, and Christmas.

Yesterday I finished the first one, for reds.  (I learned some things while making it, and I will do a couple of things differently next time.)

Here is the pile of scraps that is destined for the bin.  You see the problem--and reds are the smallest stack.  King Kong couldn't scale the pile of browns.

So, I have a few choices here:

1) Call it a nice idea, put some patterns in the bin--it  won't nearly hold all the patterns I own--and be done with it.  It also seems vaguely cowardly.

2) Make more bins.  This would be pretty, but counter-productive to my original plan to better organize things and get the scraps in hand.

3) Make larger bins.  See #2.

4) Commit to keeping the scrap level to what can be kept in the bins.  Wow.  I have a lot of scraps to deal with, but that was my original plan. 

Sigh, I'm going to have to choose Door #4, which means I have to do something with the scraps, either cut them up to standard sizes to use in scrap quilts (and go into yet other bins--double sigh) or use them.  Honestly, I don't have an attention span that will happily stand and cut odd-sized and shaped scraps into squares and strips; I cut them with what I have left after cutting for quilts but cutting existing scraps, especially an overwhelming number of them, gives me hives.

My plan, then, is to start cranking out crazy quilt blocks, to be embellished later.  (Or maybe not--they might just go into quilts as is.)   That means finding space to store those blocks or quilt tops.  (It just never ends!)  I'm hoping that Quilts from the Bluffs might find plain-ish crazy quilts useful for giving to community organizations and homes.

You all may need to keep me honest--ask me periodically how it's going.  I'll start with the reds.  And I promise I won't just transfer the scraps to the Christmas stack, to deal with later.  :-)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Crazy Hexies

Last Saturday, as part of my LQS's 1st anniversary celebration, I demonstrated the Hickory Nuts rulers/templates from  Hickory Hill Quilts.   Hexies are a popular shape these days and I ordered the large Hickory Nut with, admittedly, some hesitation.  I like rulers, but I'm not a big fan of buying rulers that have a single function, especially if I can do the same thing with a ruler I already have.   I wondered why I couldn't just cut hexagons of 2 different sizes, and save the money.  It turns out that the nested quality of the rulers is important--or, at least very useful, in making these self-bound hexies.

The instructions come with the ruler, and there are some nice videos on YouTube, but I added a step that I think might be useful to some, so I'm going to outline the steps here. (And it may serve as a reminder to the folks who stopped by the demo last week.)

Using the center template, I fussy-cut the focus fabric and a piece of batting.  I like to use a thin batting, a good thing since I have plenty of thin cotton batting floating around the studio.

The outer template is for the backing (which is also the binding).

The outer template is also a placement template for the focus fabric and batting, so they are perfectly centered on the backing--important for the binding step coming up.

However, I add an extra step that makes the binding more even and consistent (at least, for me).  I use the center template to cut a piece of oak tag (or manila file folder).  Using the outer template placed over the backing piece, I place the oak tag piece in the center of the back and pin it.

Then I use the oak tag piece as an edge so I can press creases on all six sides.

Remove the oak tag, and again use the other template as a placement tool, this time to center the focus fabric and batting.  (You can see the batting peeking out a bit.  I did that on purpose when I set up the photo, so you could see that it was there.  :-)  That's my story.

Then the rest is simply a double-fold binding, done one side at a time.  The pressed crease serves two purposes here:  1) it provides a crease against which to line up the edge of the fabric for the first fold, and 2) it IS the fold for the second fold of the binding.

Just make your way around the six sides, double-folding as you go.  I have used some clips here to prepare a couple sides ahead of my stitching, but I have also done it by simply folding a side just before top-stitching it.  Oh, and the nice thing about binding this way is that you don't have to worry about that awkward angle at the corners--the miter takes care of itself.

The hexies in the photos are made with the Extra Large Hickory Nut, and they would work fine on their own as mug mats or a trivet on a table.  If you want to join hexies, as I have done with some Large hexies for this table mat,  you can just butt the edges up against each other and zig-zag with a matching thread--or a contrasting thread and a decorative stitch. I like the effect of the binding all around the hexies--it adds another dimension, and looks as if you spent a lot of time putting mitered borders on each one.

I decided at almost the last moment before the demo that a crazy quilt hexie quilt  might be kind of fun.  I pieced a crazy hexie on a muslin background cut just a bit larger than the center hexie template, did the stitching and beading, then trimmed to the correct size and followed the procedure outlined above to finish it.   I will eventually (maybe by the time I'm 116) make a quilt but, in the meantime, I can enjoy this as a small, standalone piece.

I'm thinking about doing a four-seasons crazy quilted piece, using batiks, and with a hexie for each season.  There is at least some hope that I'll finish that in my lifetime!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The little things

It's the little things--or little bits of things--that can make a huge difference in a design.  I suppose I've always known that, in a abstract fashion, but it's becoming more clear with each quilt I design.  A difference of an inch, or half an inch, in the size of a piece or sashing can make all the difference in the success of a design.

There have been two recent quilts that have been good examples, and have also taught me some patience in working through a design.  (There will be no blue ribbons for me in the patience class, so this is a bigger deal than you might think!)

The most recent is my "Abacus" quilt.  I started out with a design in my head, then on paper.  There were two possible designs for the beads and I liked the pointed ones better.  But, my family shares photos on a photostream via our iDevices, and my sibs pretty nixed that pointed one.   That was okay because, really, I didn't like either of them all that much; the proportions just weren't right when translated to fabric.

 Back to the drawing board (design wall) and a change in the width of the beads.   Those were better (though they ended up another 1/4" narrower) but the rods were too wide.  I cut those in half but the length wasn't right.   Let's just say that's it's a good thing I had purchased extra fabric!

In the end, I liked it quite a bit.  So far, it's not a favorite of friends and family, but I like it and it's pretty close to the picture that had been in my head.  I might yet make one with the pointed beads.

The other recent example is for a design I'm calling "Baskets" for the time being. (The pattern, and a batik version,  are in the works.)  I don't even remember how many versions of the sashing I went through before settling on the final, narrow sashing and cornerstones.   There was a point when I was ready to just settle for the latest width and be done with it but when I tried this size, it was so perfectly what I wanted that I was glad for the patience that came from somewhere outside of me.   

Staying with it and tweaking until it's just right is worth the frustration--lesson learned!  Here's hoping that the patience gene will awaken in me. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Crazier all the time

I dabble in crazy quilts (well, blocks, anyway) from time to time and a Craftsy class (Heirloom Lace Edgings) stirred my interest in hand-knit and crocheted lace edgings to include in my crazy quilting. 

To begin, I looked back at few of my past and ongoing crazies.  I don't know if it's true of real crazy quilters, but I seem to never quite be finished with a crazy block--there are so many blocks in progress that I should feel guilty about even thinking about starting a new one.  But that's quilting, right?  I've learned to put aside that guilt and move on. ;-)

One of my favorite pieces is a small quilt that sits on the fireplace mantle in my den.  I think it looks pretty complete and doesn't really need any additional lace edgings.  I don't look too long, though, or I might find a little corner that teases me, wanting just a little piece of stitching or tiny button.  No, Karen, just move on....

There just isn't room on the itty-bitty crazy, so there's no question of adding lace.

My first crazy quilt, stitched years ago, now looks VERY unfinished to me now, but there really aren't any seams to edge with lace--they have stitches which need more embellishment, and I want to add some button clusters, motifs, etc., but I'm not seeing a place for lace edging.

 I might crochet or knit a lace motif around which I can embroider and embellish to my heart's content but not edging.

A Christmas block has been in the works, off and on, for 3 or 4 years and it could use some more but I'm not sure a lace edging is going to work anywhere; maybe a very delicate one along the edge of the green with the red button cluster....maybe....

Tone-on-tone is a favorite look in crazy quilting for me and a pieced, but un-embellished block has been on the design wall for awhile.  It seemed like a good time to take it down and think about some embellishing with lace edging, as it's basically a blank canvas.

The smallest knitting needles I had at the time I started this knitted edging thing was a 2.  Using a size 10 crochet thread the lace looked a little larger than I was looking for. (Though, it is a more appropriate size than with alrger needles and yarn.

So, I ordered some 0 - 000 needles and, while it didn't change the size appreciably, it did make the work look more tidy.

The edging looks OK on the block (and I also added an Irish Lace rose that I crocheted a few months ago) and I can make it work with lots of beads and embellishment but I really would like some even smaller laces.

 The 5/0, 6/0 and 8/0 needles arrived yesterday.  (Just look at the size of those 8/0s; have you ever seen anything so darn cute?)

The 5/0 needles have been put to work, this time with size 20 crochet thread and the lace is getting smaller. (Compared to size 6 needles, even with laceweight yarn, they look downright diminuitive!)

It would be easier if there were a greater contrast between the color of the thread and the color of the needles, and good light is a necessity but smaller needles aren't as big a challenge as I feared.

 Of course, I haven't tried to 8/0 yet but it won't be long.   They're so fine that it looks a bit as if I'll be knitting with insect pins and sewing thread but what's the fun of crazy quilting if you don't try some crazy things?

Some lace edgings will be in upcoming posts--after a bit of practice.  :-)  I like this wave edging (shown here with size 000) and it will be my target edging for the 5/0, and perhaps the 8/0, needles.  Stay tuned. (Keep me honest!)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Designing: Autograph Quilt Block

There is probably an autograph quilt class, and perhaps a presentation, in my future and, while I will likely want to do some traditional autograph blocks, I'd also like to try my hand at some new designs.   Working through it will (hopefully) illustrate one of the processes I use for designing--so those quilters who tell me they aren't creative or designers can see that it's not a mysterious process, or one that requires a Rembrandt sort of brain. If I can do it, anyone can--it's a matter of confidence, a bit of quilting experience in order to know what might be easier to piece and, frankly, a whole lot of luck and trial-and-error!

So, let's see what we can do about designing an autograph quilt block.  In a previous post I shared what I look for in a signature/autograph block, but to review (because we'll keep referring to it
1) Bounded area for people to sign; we don't want them to have to know about leaving us a quarter-inch seam; even quilters forget.  :-)
2) As close to a rectangular shape for signing as possible.  Diamonds seem to be difficult, for example.
3) Large enough area to sign, so people don't feel intimidated, or worry about making a mistake because they aren't sure they'll be able to fit it in the space.
4) Symmetrical enough (at least unilaterally) that there isn't a "right side up" and "wrong side up. (All right, I added this one after I wrote the previous post.)
5) Easy enough to piece that the quilter won't lose her mind making many of them. (Yes, I added this one, too, after I started thinking about making 120 of the things.)
6) Stabilized signing area, so the fabric doesn't "squirrel" around on them when they're trying to sign.

So, let's get started.  (I'm using EQ6 to do the designing; couldn't live without it; thanks, Electric Quilt!)

Here's the basic setup I'm going to use:  it's designed to get started with basic criteria:  bounded signing area, symmetrical enough that it doesn’t matter if they sign it one way or the other, large enough area to sign, rectangular, easy enough to piece so that I can make a lot of them without losing my mind…So far, so good.  On we go!. (BTW, this is an 8" square I'm working with here, but it could be adjusted, if 1" doesn't seem large enough for signing.)

Continuing with the strip sort of design that the setup lines create, here's a block (with the center left plain, for signature). 

 It's all right as a design, and put into a quilt it has a certain graphic quality to it:

But can you imagine matching all those seams?  Ugh.   You could press seams on the top row one direction, and those on the bottom the other direction, but how can you ensure that someone won’t sign it “upside down”?  (You could strip-piece the rows, but those seams…!)  Still, maybe.. if you could figure out a way to make them sign “right side up.”

Let's go back to our basic starting point to adapt the theme a bit, so we don’t have to worry about matching seams. 

Adding a long strip means fewer seams to worry about matching; it's still symmetrical enough that someone can sign one way or the other, and we could do some strip piecing so it would still be pretty easy to crank out a lot of them.

As a quilt it's OK, but let's keep playing with it a bit.

I think it might be better if alternate blocks are rotated—assuming you’re okay with some signatures running up and down; I think it’s all right, but others may not like it.  

There’s a bit of a pinwheel design where the block corners meet.  So, we might consider doing all the corners in the same fabric or color—distinct from others in the quilt—so those pinwheels stand out as a secondary design.

Here that is, with corner pieces in black, and a black border to help pull that all together.  I kind of like that.  This is a maybe. (Sometimes designs grow on me, especially after I see them in fabric, instead of just “on paper.”  There’s just something about fabric, isn't there?)

So, that’s a possibility.  But back to playing.   What if it were more of an alternating long and short—a log cabin sort of effect?

This really isn't what I had in mind.  It looks only vaguely log cabin-y doesn’t it??  Sort of,  if you squint just right.   But it’s not entirely bad.  It actually would give us three places for people to sign, but one is twice is “tall” as the others. Maybe with some changes in strip widths, and possibly changing to 9” block, this might work.

Doesn’t do much for me, laid out in quilt, but at least the signatures would be the stars of the quilt!

It's better with alternate blocks rotated but, again, only if you're okay with half the signatures running up and down.

Here, also, you could do the corner strips in the same fabric, to accentuate the secondary pinwheel effect.

Sigh.  I like that one enough that I’m going to have to go back and work on adjusting the proportions  so the signature areas are at least the same height, if not the same length.  Or, I may be okay with it this way.  Actually, I kind of like it just as a modern sort of quilt.  Hmmm. Stay tuned for a pattern, probably!

  But first, another stab at making it more log-cabiny, with the proportions of this original block.

Not much of a change here; We’ll see if it makes enough difference in the quilt to make it worth piecing that one extra little square. (And, there is now just one spot for signatures.)

And in a quilt layout:

All right, well, not a real “wow” here; maybe if we rotate alternate blocks…

Not bad, and it could be a way to use up some scraps, especially those pesky 1-1/2” strips I’ve been cutting when I’ve had strips left over from previous projects.  If I want to make this as a scrap quilt, I could increase the block size so that the strips are a bit wider;  if they were cut at 2”, finish at 1-1/2” this would be a 12” block.

This could work; I like it.

But I’m still thinking about a version with 3 strips for signing—it would give us a bigger bang for our buck, at least where a signature block is concerned. So, back to the drawing board to design that so the signature spaces are the same height.  Wish me luck!  Diving back in....

And here it is, this time a 14” block.  That seems large for a signature block but you get three signatures per block, so I think that’s reasonable.. 

  I like this better as a signature block, but I think that if I were planning just a quilt (not for signatures) I might like the uneven sizes of the light spaces in the previous blocks.

Let’s test it against the criteria for a signature/autograph block: 

1) Bounded area for signing?  Check.
2) Rectangular(ish) shape for signatures?  Check.
3) Large enough area to sign?  Check.
4) Symmetrical, so there is no "upside down" when signing the block?  I guess you'd want all three signing  a block to sign in the same direction; maybe 3/4 Check, because there's at least one in every crowd?
5) Easy to piece, so many blocks can be made without driving the quilter crazy?  Check.

Looks good to me!  Now, down to the studio for the real test.  I'll report on that later. Do yo have suggestions for changes to the block to make it even better?