Explosive and Stable at the Same Time

FFF, 42″ x 44″. Unquilted, July 2014.

I’ve been working on this, off and on (and mostly off) for … a long time. I started with some beautiful African fabrics I bought at a quilt show (years ago). With those as inspiration, I found a number of other “domestic” prints. (Just how domestic our fabrics are is a matter for another post.)

The center star was the first part of this project. I built it, faced it with lightweight fusible interfacing, and appliqued it to the background. It is appliqued rather than pieced into the background to retain the stripe of golden dots across the top. Next I rimmed that with 1″ half-square triangles that includes an African print. And that is how it stayed, waiting patiently for me to begin again.

Maybe that’s when it started to scare me. This isn’t my usual style, though it IS my usual format lately, a medallion. At every step I’ve had to remind myself that nothing needs to be permanent. Any portion put on can be taken off again. It is not so precious that it can’t be changed. And so I framed the center with black, and tipped it off-square, and loved it. And it waited again until after I began the Medallion Sew-Along last fall.

Someday, somehow, a very odd geometric print appeared in my stash. Of citrus green on black, it features interlocking circles and angry cats. And it became the next frame on my slowly-building quilt top. I followed that with different fabrics on each side, separated from the center with a very narrow red line.

More waiting…

The same African stripe used to build the center star became the next border. At that point I wasn’t sure if it was done. So I did what I usually do: I asked someone else. My sister Cathie said “no,” not done yet. It still needed some heft to offset the darker center.

And I asked Jim. He said “it needs blue.” Blue? There’s no blue here! But in fact, there is a blue-purple in one border and touches of blues in another. He has not failed me yet, so I tried blue. Whaddya know, blue was the thing to brighten and strengthen everything already there. But blue all the way around? Too strong for me. So I used blue print on one side and stitched solid blues into an uneven piano keys border made from scraps. And I chose yet another print for the fourth side.

Busy! But … intriguing… To corral it all, I ringed it with red and black print, echoing the red star center and the red line used earlier.

One more line of blue, this time all the way around. It’s a tone-on-tone with stars, the perfect Americana touch to complement the African fabrics and feel. This quilt will be for a friend, explosive and stable at the same time. The stars are another hat tip to him.

The final border is another African print of black and cream, edged with the same brilliant orange found near the center.

I really had to talk myself through this. What was scary about it? Mostly the worry that if I “ruined” the African fabrics, I wouldn’t be able to replace them. Also, because it will be a gift, I want it special enough to honor my friend. The next intimidation factor I’ll need to overcome is quilting it. I think that will be less frightening, if only because the design is so busy, quilting will hardly show!

Thanks as always to Cathie and Jim for their encouragement and advice.

What’s the most recent “scary” project you’ve done? Why were you hesitant? Did you work through it? Were you happy with your results?

You can find Catbird Quilt Studio at Facebook, too.

20 thoughts on “Explosive and Stable at the Same Time

  1. denmck

    This quilt is awesome! Such a bold move to use so many patterns together but they work beautifully. You have a great eye for color and determining the sizes of your border pieces so that they compliment each other and the entire quilt. Amazing job.

  2. RareBird

    Wow–this is terrific! It’s just what I want to do with mine–find a way to make some bold, domineering fabrics live together in harmony. Feel like that center star, the white toned border of the same star fabric, and the outer border with the white pattern tie the quilt together in a subtle but important way. The blue is unexpected but definitely makes the whole quilt go “pop”. Now you’ve got me inspired! Also, appreciate the observation that nothing is so precious that you can’t remove a border if you don’t like it.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks. My husband had already told me to use blue, but seeing it with yours (and trying it myself) is what convinced me. So glad we could help each other!!

  3. KerryCan

    I get all hung about about crafting decisions, too, and need to remember your point about being able to undo any step that doesn’t work out well. I can get almost paralyzed when I’m not sure what to do next–so silly! And your technique of asking for input from people you trust is also so smart–when you get too wound up in a project sometimes a pair of fresh eyes can help!

    1. Melanie in IA Post author

      The only time you CAN’T undo is when you’ve cut something that can’t be replaced. That’s part of why this one was tough. I knew I couldn’t replace the African fabrics, and of the two orange ones in particular, I don’t have very much.

  4. Thread crazy

    Melanie I do like the blue you included as a border…it brightens the quilt I think. I haven’t worked with African fabrics yet; I have been given a FQ of a piece that is a blend – not a particular pattern. One of these days…I do like the various border styles – adds to the “story” behind the fabrics. Once you complete the quilting you’re going to be so happy with it. I like it!

    1. Melanie in IA Post author

      Thanks so much. I was surprised that so few of the borders are pieced. Instead they are mostly strips. But with patterning that bold, there wasn’t need to piece them. (huh… good thing to remember for future projects…)

  5. Joanna

    I’m so glad you threw blue into the mix as it complements what looks like a cheddar-y orange. I usually take the “fools rush in” approach to project creation, but will get hesitant at the “is it done?” stage. And, after it’s quilted, there’s the “why didn’t I do this?” regrets stage. But that’s why people do series.

    1. Melanie in IA Post author

      I’m glad I used the blue, too. My computer screen doesn’t show the colors quite accurately. The “blue” that already existed at that point is more purple than blue, so I wasn’t reading that. I truly was surprised when he said to use blue, and even more surprised when it worked so perfectly.

      As to “fools rush in,” once I moved past the mitered black-on-cream border, I didn’t hesitate. But up to that point, oh boy!


  6. shoreacres

    I just love this. Many of the fabrics you’ve used either are, or are similar in appearance to, Fanti cloth, the ubiquitous fabric sold by traders in the Monrovia markets (and elsewhere in W. Africa).

    And that first broad horizontal band beneath the star is clearly a Kente cloth pattern. If you don’t know Kente cloth, you can see a wide assortment here. I brought some strips back with me, but gave most of them away over the years. It’s fun to be reminded of them.

    The outside band looks for all the world like the wax print fabrics that were common up along the Liberia/Guinea border. Some of them were done on damask, fabric exactly like the old tablecloths. They were just spectacular.

    1. Melanie in IA Post author

      Thank you so much. There are four African fabrics and the rest are not. You’ve surely picked out the four. I assumed the broad one under the star was from western Africa, if not the others. Today I noticed that the outside border was made in Mali and is of a much coarser, but smooth, cotton, so you are in the right neighborhood. Yes, the finish was waxy, but I did wash it to soften it and make it easier to work with.

      I’m glad you like it. It was so exciting to put the last few rounds of borders on. 🙂


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