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?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Autograph Quilts Revisited

Since my last post I've been doing some more work on autograph quilts, looking for patterns to use for blocks to take to several retreats and conferences that are coming up for me this Fall.  There are many choices, but over the years I've developed some criteria by which I evaluate a block.  From experience I have learned that a good block for signing, especially by non-quilters, should:

1) have enough room for them to sign.  We're accustomed to signing on some pretty short lines on myriad forms we have to sign, but quilt blocks seem to be different.  Maybe they seem more daunting, particularly to those who haven't done it before, and people are afraid they'll mess it up.

2) have "boundaries" for the signing built in.  It's not reasonable to expect people to allow for a 1/4' seam, even if you ask them to, or explain why.  It is much easier for everyone if the piece they are signing is already pieced, all the way around, into the block.  My retirement signature quilt had a bounded piece for friends to sign, and it seemed to work perfectly.

3) be a shape as close the to a rectangle as possible.  (Though, the larger an odd-shaped piece, the easier it seems to be; see #1)  I've asked people to sign diamond-shapes, in a Square-in-a-Square, and it's harder to "map out" how to fit your signature into the shape.  After the fact, of course, I realized that I would probably be scratching my head, myself, if faced with a small-ish diamond shape.

4) have some sort of backing to stabilize the fabric.   It could be freezer paper ironed on the back. or a piece of foundation fabric on a string-pieced block, or the paper foundation of an English Paper Piecing piece.  One of my quilting friends said that painter's tape could be used instead of freezer paper.  I haven't tried that but I don't know why it wouldn't work.  I think you wouldn't want to leave the tape on for very long, though.

So, here's the design I've chosen for the next quilt; they'll be signing the larger hexies, which will be pieced around the paper templates but not yet sewn to the stars.  That means that I can have the 120 two-inch hexies basted ahead of time but won't have to worry about having all the stars finished.  That many hexies and stars will make more than one quilt, so one quilt will have blue and purple stars and the other will have....something else, to be decided later.  That's the beauty of this one--I can do the signed pieces ahead of time and finish it up later.  

 It wins 3-1/2 stars:  the hexies are 2" on a side so they're large enough; they have boundaries built in (the pieces are whip-stitched together, so seams are already set by the basting around the paper); it isn't a rectangle but at least they aren't sharp points to work around they're big enough to mitigate that issue; and they stabilizer is also built in, in the form the paper that the fabric is basted around.

(Oh, and as a bonus, this can be another sample for the English Paper Piecing class!)

What blocks would you nominate as good signature blocks?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Hugs from friends: signature quilts

Friends and colleagues signed quilt blocks instead of a guest book at my retirement party last month, and today I finished the binding.  Binding is always a wonderful, meditative activity for me but this one was even more special as, sitting under the quilt as I sewed, it felt as if I were being hugged by all of those friends.
(BTW, the display rack I now use for photgraphing quilts is fabulous--I can set it up and make all the adjustments by myself; I bought it from Craftgard.)

Autograph and signature quilts have long intrigued me and I have made occasional forays--or, at least starts, into signature quilts.  I am thinking about doing a series of classes on signature quilts and various blocks and have dug out some pieces from those forays/starts.

Fifteen years ago I made traditional Chimney Sweep blocks for visitors to my home to sign.  I don't remember why I stopped making them, whether time or sheer forgetfulness or who knows what, but I have enough of them to make a small quilt--provided I do alternate plain blocks.  I am still working on layout and fabrics (and pressing!) for the alternating blocks and side triangles but it will be finished.  Sooner or later--and now I'm sure it will be sooner!

Some years later I embarked on another signature quilt project, again from people visiting my home (which, by this time, was a house instead of an apartment).  I remember liking this one very much, and the blocks would certainly take less time to make but, again, it went by the wayside.  It re-surfaced, coincidentally, a couple of weeks ago and looking at it now I can see that I am a better piecer!  It will be something of a challenge to put these blocks together accurately but I would like to resurrect this one for visitors to my home.  I have some catching up to do!

My retirement was from public employment and I am enjoying my new "job" (how can you call something that is so much fun a "job"?) as a quilt teacher and designer.  I love teaching, and learn so much from students; I'd love to have autographs from students in the classes I teach and I have started yet another signature quilt.   I have a bit of catching up to do, from a few classes that I have already taught at Cut Up and Quilt but I'll start with the classes I have coming up in the next couple of weeks.

Many years ago I started yet another signature quilt. (Are you seeing a trend here?  It's time to break that trend, don't you think?)  This was an applique quilt, with autographs from librarians attending an annual continuing education retreat in a woodsy setting.  Each librarian signed a leaf made of fabric, to be appliqued to....well, that was the problem.  I never made a decision about what the background would be.   There's something abstracty in the back of my mind and one day soon it will come to the front and manifest itself.  :-)   (I DO know where the leaves are.  That's a point in my favor, I think.)

I also have a plan in mind for autographs from people who may be part of larger gatherings.  With luck, that will be ready for a short return into my pre-retirement library world this fall.  We'll see how that goes.

The signature quilts are wonderful reminders of places and events of my life but, more importantly, of the people.  Looking back at the names on the older blocks I remember friends who have passed out of my life, one way or another, as well as those who are still a vital part of it.  They all piece together into my life, past and present.  And in the future the quilts that friends are signing now will remind me of these days, and the part of my life that bring me to that point.   I will be hugged, even when I am alone.