Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Fractured Fats

In anticipation of demonstrating the new Stripology ruler last weekend I wanted to design a quilt that was relatively easy to make, and uses the standard pre-cuts you can get from a fat quarter:  two 10" squares, four 5" squares, and one 2-1/2" x 20" strip.

Part of the demo was showing those cuts on fat quarters and, as I thought I might as well have a purpose in mind for those cuts, instead of just cutting random fat quarters, I wanted a design (or 2, or 3, or 4) in mind.   It would also be a chance to have the quilters watching the demo vote on which of several designs they liked.

As usual, the one they preferred that day is not the one I would have chosen/guessed.   :-)   I like to cast as wide an opinion net as possible, and see if the blog readers' choice matches that of the local quilters.  (It's fascinating to see what everyone is going to like most!)

So, here are four choices; the colors aren't important, they're just varied to make it easier to see the pattern.  The end quilt might be all blues or all reds, or a completely different color scheme than shown. So, picture your favorite color scheme or palette, and vote, at the link below, on your favorite.  You'll see the designs on the poll, also, but as a preview:

Cast your vote here, and thanks for your help in choosing a design!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Just the Right Fabric: Top Ten Questions to Ask When Choosing Fabric

The right fabric can make or break a quilt.  

Choosing fabric is one of my favorite things to do.  Most of the time I actually buy what I choose, but sometimes I just cruise the quilt shop, choosing what I MIGHT use for a given quilt.   As a designer, teacher, and former quilt shop employee, I have also been privileged to be able to help others choose fabric for their own quilts.

Practice choosing fabric to gain confidence.

Some quilters, especially newer quilters, aren't very confident about choosing fabric.  Often they will buy a kit, or the fabric to duplicate a sample quilt.  There's nothing wrong with that--if I see a sample that I love, there's every chance in the world I'll buy a kit.  (And perhaps even make it someday!)  However, I love to see people strike out on their own, and choose fabrics to make a quilt truly their own, even if the first tentative step into fabric selection is to swap out one or two fabrics, or choose a different set of precuts.

You're more creative than you think!

Very often I hear, "I'm just not good with color.  I'm not creative and I don't have good color sense."  It breaks my heart, and throws down a challenge; I firmly believe that we are all creative, it's only that many of us were convinced by others when we were young that we aren't creative because we couldn't draw exactly what the teacher (or whoever) wanted.   It seems to me that everyone (except those who are truly color blind) has color sense, if in no other way than having favorite colors, or  knowing what you like when you see it.   The challenge for the not-entirely-comfortable, not even counting the barrier of believing they aren't creative, is to translate the aspects that ARE comfortable for them into fabric choices.  And it takes some practice.

Notice that these are the Top Ten Questions, NOT the Top Ten Rules, or even Top Ten Guidelines.  (And even rules are made to be broken, right?)  There are exceptions to each of these, and all of these.  These are the questions that I trot out most of the time, often to help me make a choice between two fabrics that are possibilities, or as an overall final checklist or assessment.  And sometimes they just get tossed out, and wonderful quilts still result!   I look at these as a starting point.

The Top Ten Questions:

1. Focus Fabric. Do you see a fabric or collection whose colors you like, even if you don't want to use that specific fabric in a quilt?  A focus fabric is an excellent way to choose fabrics that go together in a way that pleases you.  Choose fabric with the colors you see in the focus fabric.  Most fabrics even have little circles of the colors in the selvage, if the print confuses your eye and you find it difficult to see the colors.

Here I'm pulling out colors that I see in the multi-colored print.  I wouldn't necessarily have thought to put these particular colors and shades together if I hadn't seem them--and fallen in love with this print.  I may end up not using all of them, but the focus fabric has given me many choices and plenty of guidance for my choices!

Large scale prints are especially helpful when looking for color help.  Sometimes I don't even use the focus fabric in the quilt, I just like the color combination and the focus fabric is my guide for selecting fabrics to give me that color effect.   A few examples:

Vermont from Alexander Henry

Floragraphix IV by Jason Ynenter

Kona Bay

2. Scale.  Is there a variety of scale in the fabrics?  There are some exceptions, of course--modern quilts often use solid fabrics, for example, but most of the time I aim for a variety of large, medium, and small print fabrics in my selection; it adds texture and interest for the eye.
If using prints, look for large, medium, and small scale prints.

3. Value. Is there a variety of value in the fabrics?  Usually, you want a good mix of light, medium, and dark fabrics.  

Note that light, medium, and dark are relative terms here; a fabric that looks medium compared to the fabrics around it on the shop's shelves may be a dark--or a light--in YOUR selection, depending on the other fabrics you have chosen.  In the first photo, the brown/gold/green fabric looks very dark compared to the tan, while in the second photo, the same fabric looks medium in value when compared to the dark brown.

5. Contrast. Is there enough contrast in the fabrics?  Note that this MAY be "Is there good contrast," but not necessarily; for some quilts you may not want a lot of contrast.  Be aware of fabrics, especially prints, that will "bleed" or "melt" into other fabrics.  If those fabrics will be next to each other in the quilt, will you be able to tell that they are different fabrics?  (Hint--step back and look at them from a distance.  If they look like essentially the same fabric, then the piecing you do will get lost.)  This contrast may be a contrast of value (see #4) but it may also be a contrast in color, or size of print.

I wanted a good contrast for the narrow bands in my "Upstanding" quilt, and the dark gray is a contrast in both color and value.  White, pink, or red would have "bled" into the main fabrics, no matter what value or scale I chose, since there's a variety of both those in the main fabrics.  
So, in this case, a contrast in color was the ticket.

In "Underwater Basketweaving" the contrast is in the difference in the value of the two blues.

5. Directional? Is the print directional?  Is there a definite "line," and will it drive you crazy if that line ends up to be not perfectly straight?  The "line" may not be a line at all, but a print, such as a plaid, or a geometric, that looks very linear.   Sometimes fabrics are not printed exactly on grain, and sometimes we (gasp!) don't cut perfectly straight.   For scrappy, homespun quilts, it may be appropriate or desirable to have some that aren't straight, and some quilters are all right with that effect in their quilts.  Other quilters are not.  You just need to know which of those YOU are.

The prints below aren't stripes, but they are quite directional.


6. Large Print, Small Cut. If you cut the fabric into the size of pieces the pattern specifies, will you lose a color or effect?  For example, if it's a large print but the piece will be quite small, will you still like the fabric in that role?  Or, if color and contrast are important, are the colors in the print scattered, so that some cuts will be give you blue pieces, and others will give you a completely different color?  (And will that be all right or not?)

Here, the overall impression is of a medium green,  but if I'm cutting small pieces from it I might get some that are a light golden or a light  green or a dark green. (Lovely fabric, though, isn't it?  It would be great in a quilt with larger pieces.)

I have found that this often  comes up with students who are choosing batiks for a 2-color quilt, such as a Hunter's Star.  In this batik (which, I know, looks out of focus, but that's the way the fabric is printed), even a reasonably large piece could end up being light or dark, blue or green or pink.  

In this one, the fabric reads as green, overall, but the bits of gold and blue and pink are large enough that one of them might end up the predominant color in some of the pieces.  And there are large enough areas of light and dark that it could result in quite different patches of color and value.

(Remember, this does not make these fabrics anything less than beautiful, just not necessarily appropriate for some patterns.)

7. Pop! Do you have a fabric that makes the other fabrics "pop"?  (And do you want a "pop" fabric in the quilt?)  If you pull a fabric out and the other fabrics suddenly look dull to you, you might want to re-think that fabric.  Conversely, are there any fabrics that 'dull it down," that seem to just lie flat?  I often lay the fabrics on a table, walk around the shop and, when I come back to the table, see if any fabric catches my eye or looks out of place when I come around the corner and see them in that first moment.  (It can also be helpful if you can find someone to hold the fabrics vertically for you.)

In the example of fabric selection in #1, the gold toward the middle of the line is the 'pop" fabric; I might not want to use a great deal of it, but without that bit of bright pop, the quilt would be fine, but a little subdued, and I wasn't looking for subdued for this one!

8. Mood.  Does the fabric fit the same "mood" or style as the other fabrics?  Is the quilt elegant, but one of the fabrics is more of a whimsical mood?   In a recent class, a quilter had a selection of batik and batik-like fabrics, and one that was a small, nautical print with anchors scattered across it.  The color was right--though the background on the nautical looked flatter than the batiks--but the mood was completely different and she was much happier when she chose to not use that fabric for that quilt.

The yarn fabric and the stripe have the same whimsical, informal mood but the Celtic fabric, though it has some of the same colors as the stripe and the yarn, has an entirely different mood.

Blank Textiles, Red Rooster Fabrics, and Paula Nadelstern for Benartex

9. Too Matchy?  Is the selection of fabrics too "matchy-matchy" for your taste?  Sometimes you will gather fabrics, having paid very close attention to matching colors just-so, and find that it lacks some life.  Try a fabric or two that are a little different, and see if helps the quilt to "pop."  Perhaps it's a fabric that's a hair brighter than one of the colors you've chosen.   You haven't lost anything by trying, and you might find yourself happier with your selection.

Below, the first photo shows perfectly fine matches for the Jinny Beyer print, color-wise, and it would make a perfectly fine quilt.  But I like the addition of another fabric, the Rose and Hubble print in the lighter blue; it adds some sparkle. (And it adds a little more variety in scale.)

These days many fabric designers are creating collections that help you stay away from the "matchy-matchies" by including a variety of types of prints, all designed around a color scheme and mood.
This Three Sisters collection, "Spring Fever," is a good example.  When I first started in quilting I probably wouldn't have thought to mix all these types of prints together.  (Well, I've been quilting for 40 years, and we barely had 100% cotton fabric when I started, much less all these choices.  But I likely wouldn't have made these choices then, even if I could have.)

Don't be afraid to take advantage of their design expertise, but don't be afraid to add your own tweaking to them, too!

10. Do YOU like it?  This trumps everything else.  You will be working with this fabric for some time as you make the quilt and, if you keep it, you'll be living with the finished product for even longer.  If you don't like it, now is the time to change it.  Quilting is supposed to be fun, and if you don't like the fabric you're using, what's the point?

Try it, you'll like it!

If you aren't comfortable with choosing colors and fabrics, I hope you'll give it a try; it takes some practice, but I'm confident you'll be able to do it with just a little practice--and you'll get better each time you do it, as you learn what you like, and which questions are the most helpful to you.


Monday, August 18, 2014

If at first you don't succeed, design, design again!

Over the past couple of weeks I have been reviewing some of the knitting classes from Craftsy in which I am enrolled.  (I'm too embarrassed to tell you how many Craftsy classes, on all topics, have my name on the roster!)   My interest of late has been primarily in the design classes, specifically designing knitted lace shawls, cowls, and scarves; many design principles and ideas apply across all disciplines, after all.  One comment that I kept hearing over and over was, "And how do I do this?  I knit and rip, knit and rip......I knit swatches with different bead colors..."

One of the things that is being reinforced for me as I try to get better at design is that there isn't a straight path from idea to design/pattern.  (Well, seldom is there a straight path.)  At least, that is true for me, and it seems to be for some others, too--others who are much more gifted designers than I, so I don't feel so badly.  :-)

Sometimes I have something very specific in my head for a design, but it's also rather fun to start with just a vague idea for a quilt design:  "How about something around 2" squares?" and just start drawing lines and plugging in colors.  (Admittedly, this is much more fun when you have an easy way to draw those lines and change them, so a computer design program is nice.   For many of my quilt designs I use Electric Quilt, and for the rest I use Word or Illustrator.    Once you learn how to use them--and the learning curve for Illustrator is still on an upward slope for me, I admit--you can focus on design elements, rather than spending time erasing and re-drawing on paper.)

This morning I sat down with EQ, having nothing more in mind than the aforementioned "a quilt design/something around 2" squares.   I drew a 2" grid in EQ, with an odd number of squares.  There's no particular reason that it should be odd, other than I thought a central 'spine" of some sort might be interesting; often, odd numbers of things are more interesting to the eye.

Then I just started coloring in squares.  I usually start with just a couple of colors and a background, unless I have something specific in mind, because it gives me contrast (one of those design principles) without having to worry about how multiple colors are working with each other; getting a design I like is enough to focus on for the time being!   I chose red and blue because, frankly, they were the first two colors up in the EQ palette I was using.

I won't bore you with describing all the combinations I tried; suffice it to say that there were many, probably 50 or more.  And then some more.  I cut some of the squares in half, diagonally, then tried some more cut in half.  i cut them the other way, then deleted some of them.  I traded the colors in some squares, then traded them back again and changed others.  Each time I made a design change in the block,  I plugged the block into a quilt, rotating blocks and trying different configurations.   Placed in the quilt, I could see where I might want to change a color, or split a square, or un-split it.  Then, it was back to the block, then back to the quilt, then back to the block.

Did I mention that the path to a quilt design isn't very straight?

Along the way I created some designs I liked well enough, some that I didn't like at all, and some that made me wonder, 'What was the point of THAT change?"

You've probably found this to be true when you're looking at quilt designs, or choosing patterns, or looking through a catalog:  you know when a quilt is right, when it is something that you like.  And the same was true for this design process--and almost always, for me:  when you hit upon the right design, you know it.  After two or three hours of futzing with the block, I arrived at a design I like.   I changed the colors to a holiday vibe and, with any luck, I'll be able to show you the finished quilt design in late Fall or early winter.

The moral of today's designing quilts story is to just keep playing--the design road is seldom straight, or a quick trip, but it is always fun!  (If you're in the vicinity of Cut Up and Quilt, join me for an EQ class in October; you'll learn the basics of the software so you can, design, too!)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Yes, YOU Are Creative, Too!

"How do you come up with your designs? My brain just doesn't work that way."   I hear that question more and more these days.  Honestly, it makes me kind of giggle; I don't feel like any more of a designer than anyone else!  Mostly, I just play, drawing on ideas that just jump out at me when I "leave space" for it, as Weeks Ringle says.   I believe that everyone is creative, perhaps in a different way than the person next to you, but able to create designs--once you are open to the possibility.

So, how DO I come up with quilt designs? 

Quilt designs from prompts and challenges 
Writers often get their creative juices flowing with published "prompts," which pose characters/settings/situations.  Similarly, sometimes my design ideas come from prompts or challenges that I set myself, as in the 12-week challenge I just finished.  I had ideas for several of the weeks of the challenge, but then started to ask family and friends for "prompts"  when I started to feel the well dry up.  They did very well (thanks, everyone!) and I discovered that challenges set by others works pretty well for me.

Quilt designs from details all around you
 Sometimes ideas are in the world before my eyes, as with the "Elemental" design based on an antique door hinge at my hairdresser's shop, or a light fixture in the rest room at my dentist's office, or the ceiling at a convention center.   Stay tuned for a quilt series around architectural and decor elements.

I think you can train yourself, or maybe it's condition yourself, to notice those things.  I find myself doing it more often, practicing, since I've become aware of it.  Sometimes I practice it when I have to wait somewhere.  Recently I had occasion to spend some considerable time waiting at a clinic and I challenged myself to find five design ideas in what I saw around me.  (The magazine rack was a very interesting design, that might be interpreted in a quilt one day.)

Quilt designs from constraints
Sometimes they come, interestingly, from constraints posed to me.   Most often (for me) that has been in the form of the precuts or a specific fabric, as in quilts I've designed for Cut Up and Quilt for various occasions:   shop hops, bus trips, and the like.

"Going Up" was designed around three constraints, or maybe I should call them considerations: 5" squares of solid colors, easy to piece, and modern (because the shop has quite a modern flair.)

Going Up!

"Hair Raising" needed to use some extra kits of 18 fat eights of Halloween fabric, and have a bit of a scary edge to it.  (Someday I want to do this in icy blues.)

Hair Raising

"Hop, Skip, and a Jump" focused on fabric designed just for the All Iowa Shop Hop, with accents of solid brights.   The nature of the shop hop fabric was such that I wanted it to be used in large pieces.  Again, I thought it should be easy to piece, so the bright colors were in long strips and the corner triangles were of a size such that corners and points didn't have to match.

Hop, Skip, and a Jump

The ten (well, in the end, eleven) quilts in the "Ten for Ten" series all came from a "limitation" of using 10" squares.  In that series there was a great deal of "What if..." going on:  what if I cut here after I sew that?  Or what if I sewed it THIS way, instead?   In other words, there was much of trial and error.  I have a stack of iterations of Underwater Basketweaving that could cover Alaska.   I'm working now on a series "Jelly Plus," designing quilts that use a jelly roll and some other precut.  "Jumble Sale" started it out, and the newest one is "Zipped," which will be published this weekend.

Underwater Basketweaving

Quilt designs in series
I'm sure everyone is different creatively, and you must find what works best for  you.  For me, for example, designing in series gets my creative cogs turning.  Perhaps it gives me a structure for trying many new ideas, without having to find completely new concepts for each quilt.  Perhaps it's just that my mind wants to categorize and organize ideas.  (I was a librarian for more than 40 years, after all.)  Whatever the reason, it works well for me.  I have the attention span of a two year old, however, so the series necessarily have limits, and then I want to be on to something else.  You may get bored with series, or find that one series can last you a very long time.

"Zipped"  is not only a Jelly Plus but the start of a series of quilts based on fasteners.  I liked zipped and I decided to go more general for more ideas.  What is a zipper?  It's a fastener.  What other fasteners are there?  My brain is  mulling designs with names such as "Clipped" and "Snapped" and "Stapled."

I've already started a "Retro Modern" series, and ideas for more in that series are chasing each other around in my head.

Quilt design ideas from "failed" designs
Confession time:  I have a lot of bad ideas, and designs that are just flat out ugly.   I could let that discourage me, but each less-than-useful idea is one design I don't have to bother to make.  Sometimes it's just sheer volume and perseverance that create the best designs; seldom is a first iteration a success.  My design book and my libraries in Electric Quilt are filled with designs that will never see fabric BUT they may spark another thought or idea, that leads to a better one.

And, an aside:  Don't hesitate to listen to what a quilt or design tells you.  Fellow quilters, you know what I mean!   I don't like to sew on borders, and when Spaghetti Straps told me it wanted four of them, I cried.  But I did them, because the quilt was the better for it.

Spaghetti Straps

"Paper Chains," a design that will soon be published is different than originally planned.  The block remained the same but the layout changed after I pieced all the blocks and put them up on the design wall.  I liked it well enough, but then the "What if...." muse in my brain started whispering to me--and then she started shouting at me.  (You have a muse, too, you just have to listen for her.)  The name changed because the fabric/precuts I ended up with were not what I went to the shop to buy.  :-)

Paper Chains (in progress)

In short, don't sell yourself short:  you ARE creative, if you let yourself just play.  Let ideas percolate.  Don't worry about whether someone else is going to like your design, just do it.    I have complete faith and confidence in your creativity!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Modern Quilt Comes Together

My readers' choice from the first half of the 12-week Design Challenge was "Between Two Rivers," and it's coming together.  I confess that your choice surprised me, but it's been fun to put it together and I thought I'd share how I translated it from drawing to quilt.

The design evolved during Week 6 of the Challenge, starting out as one concept in the "different paths" challenge that my friend Ann proposed.  After the fact, I decided it reminded me of Iowa, which means 'Between Two Rivers."   The rivers run north and south, rather than east and west, as the design depicts, but what's the fun in creating art if you can't use artistic license?

Between Two Rivers quilt design

Translating a Design into a Quilt

The first step was to choose fabrics.   I didn't want any large scale prints for it (except for the background), but neither did I want solids; texture was important, especially if the greens were representing fields full of crops.  I played with the idea of representing fields in different seasons, and maybe that will happen someday, but for this quilt I stuck with high summer.  Not all of these fabrics made it into the quilt.

Then I set out to work on proportion.  I knew that I didn't want the fields to be all the same length and width.  This is more artistic license, as Iowa is laid out quite grid-like, for the most part.   The order and placement of the fabrics in the layout, as well as the relative sizes and proportion required some trial and error.   And it changed.  Many times.

Even as I pieced the fields, the sizes and proportion saw some adjustments.  I also added narrow brown strips between the fields, which was not part of the original drawing.  It felt like it needed a bit of "pop" between, to accent the change in the fields/crops and brown was logical; Iowa has rich soil.    I worked it until it looked as I thought I wanted it, then just sort of closed my eyes and sewed it together.   At some point, you just have to say, 'Enough with the tweaking," and do it.   That usually works for me, though I have been known to rip out an entire quilt top and re-do it.  I'll tell you the story of the Abacus/Soroban quilt some day.

The last of the layout decisions were the shade and curve of the rivers.  There were really only two possibilities for the shade of the blue, and the lighter fabric won.  The textural print of the blue was just what I wanted for the flowing rivers.

The top is almost finished--just finishing the applique on the rivers--and will be loaded on Molly, my longarm, soon.  I'll let you know how the quilting goes!

If you're interested in updates on designs and quilts that I'm working on, please follow the Spinster on Facebook; I'd love to see you there!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The votes are in!

It looks like the voting has settled, and the winner is.....

Feynman Lives!

I'm working to finish up the applique of the two rivers on your choice from the last challenge poll, then it will be ready to quilt.  Gotta figure out that quilting scheme soon!  (A friend is here, getting acquainted with Molly (my longarm) as she learns to quilt.   "Between Two Rivers" might take awhile to quilt, so we'll see what the training schedule is going to be.  That's a reprieve, right?  I have more time to figure out the quilting, and get started on Feynman.  :-)

I'll post an update on Between Two Rivers soon.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Getting to Work (Part II)!

The second half of the 12 week Design Challenge is over, and it's time for you to tell me which of the weekly designs you'd like me to work on first.   I've chosen the design I like best from each week's concepts, and your votes will decide where I start.  (I'm still making progress on "Between Two Rivers," which should be ready for quilting soon.  Which means, I suppose, that I have to settle on a quilting scheme.)

Anyway, back to this half of the challenge.  You can vote for your choice on this survey/poll, which shows the choices, but I'm reviewing your choices here, as well.   (Disclaimer:  Colors may change, on any of these, when they are actually made.)

1. Life is Chocolate
What can I say?

2. Feynman Lives
Perhaps not as true to a Feynman diagram as some of the others, it still retains a tiny bit of the spirit of them.

3. Elemental
All good choices, as I liked them all.  I had to choose one.

4. Inca
I liked all my choices, but this was still in keeping with the original, beautiful Inca counting device.

5. Knife Skills
I will probably do "Diced," anyway, at some point (I'm thinking hand-dyed cottons) so Julienned was my choice for your choosing.

6. Window on Wings
This was a tough choice, but in the end this is the one from last week that would be most different for me to try.

Please help with your vote! (You surprised me last time.)   Thanks for your input!  Here's the link again: