Try and Try Again

When I make a quilt, sometimes I can envision just what to do. HA! Sure. Sometimes. But probably as often, I run through several scenarios before deciding I’m done with a segment.

That might work with any or all of these steps:
1) Think about different possibilities. Consider colors, shapes, scale…
2) Try ideas in EQ7.
3) Sketch out ideas on paper.
4) Audition fabric.
5) Cut and stitch fabrics.
6) Assemble.
7) Disassemble.
8) Try again.

I’m teaching my Medallion Improv! class again. My students are each making a quilt, which they design for themselves. I am making two quilts of very different natures, in order to demonstrate thinking about a greater variety of puzzles. The more traditional quilt is going together pretty easily. But the non-traditional one is a bigger mystery.

The tentative title for this one is “I Found the Housework Fairy But She’s Not Coming Back.” 🙂


Here are the steps I’ve taken so far:

1) The center block uses a piece of fabric from Alexander Henry. Once I cut it to size, I knew the fairy would get a little lost in the center, with all the busyness. I wanted to frame her better and reduce the clutter of the scene. I added the curved strips, which helped. She’s still not quite as obvious as I’d like, but it’s better. And the insets add a little texture, so it isn’t “just” a piece of fabric now.

2) The first border actually did what I wanted. The turquoise top and bottom helps direct attention to her because of the aqua in her hair. The mitered corners point at her, centered in the block. The overall simplicity helps offset the busy center.

3) Last week in class I showed the students that much, as well as a bunch of fabrics I considered for the second border. Phyllis exclaimed about one that is very pale. I thought it was too pale, but when I got it home, that was the only thing I liked.

3a) I made 5 test blocks of the very pale and a light aqua. They have curved piecing, which I thought would contribute to the organic nature of the piece. I did not like them.

3b) I thought a lot about what else to try. I didn’t want to just put a slab of the very light fabric next. Then I thought about what my sister Cathie would do. She has a little more intuitive approach to her medallions, and I figured if I could mimic her, I might get it right. (Hilarious, huh? A calculated attempt to do something spontaneous…) Irony aside, I decided to put squares on point, but make them smaller than the width allowed. That meant more squares and a little more delicate feel. But I needed to figure out how to fill the width. I chose having a darker color outside and extra of the very light color next to the center. Also because all the squares and their setting pieces are on the bias, a strip of lavender on the outside edge stabilizes it and gives it a more defined finish. This muchI like. The next challenge was figuring corner blocks.

3c) Corner block attempt 1: built 4 corners and attached 2 of them, and attached that border. It didn’t work.

3d) Corner block attempt 2: disassembled all corners, modified them which included cutting new pieces and rebuilding. It didn’t work.

3e) Corner block attempt 3: disassembled all 4 corners, cut new pieces and made new corner blocks. It didn’t work.

3f) Hurray! It pays to go through stash one more time. The first 3 attempts were for pieced blocks. I thought an unpieced corner would be too obtrusive. But the batik print I used is blotchy enough that it doesn’t call attention to itself. It also brings out some of the yellow from the center, giving me the opportunity to use it again in the next border.

Okay, so the score card on that is 1 major change to the center, 1 major change to the second border, and 3 major changes to the second border’s corner blocks. Five big changes in the first three segments (center plus two borders.) THIS is typical, and it’s all okay. Each time I tried, I failed better. This is part of the experimenting, trying something, learning from it, and trying something different.

I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

Thomas A. Edison




14 thoughts on “Try and Try Again

  1. farmquilter

    Loving reading your thought process! I have honestly had one quilt come out of my head and ended up being exactly what I saw in my head…all the rest were surprises! I don’t rip unless essential (like yours, you really needed to), I am willing to go with Bob Ross and a “happy accident”!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      About the only thing I can envision is a step at a time. Even when I draw the whole thing in EQ7, the fabrics do things the pixels don’t, and I change things as I come to them. Then I change the drawing… 🙂

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks. Yesterday and today I’ve been working on the 3rd border. Lots of little plus blocks. I like it so far. 🙂

      A different take on “fail”: I’m not lost. I just don’t know where I am.


  2. Cjh

    I love it, and seems like something I would do. 🙂 The colors are perfect and the fairy a wonderful print. Somehow I pictured pink and glitter when you said fairy and I really should have known better, right? Can’t wait to see how the next step turns out.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I’ll send you a picture tomorrow. 🙂

      Yes, glitter? On the other hand, she could use something to make her stand out just a bit more. Maybe you can give me some ideas.

  3. snarkyquilter

    The process you describe is my favorite part of quilting – all those great what ifs. I realize you work much larger than I do, but sometimes experimenting with one’s design on a design wall before sewing can save some “unsewing” time. And then there’s design decisions made by what fabric is on hand. As to your fairy, maybe some hand embroidery or fabric paint/markers would help emphasize her more.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I do try designs before stitching in, but that doesn’t always show how it will really look. This time, for whatever reason, I didn’t get any sense of it beforehand. And yes, the fairy could use a little emphasis. I wondered if even outlining her just a little more darkly would bring her out some. Thanks for the ideas.

  4. Thread crazy

    For the most part I follow the steps you outlined, maybe not in that same order (lol) and with the exception of #2, as I don’t have EQ7. Sometimes I see something in my head and sometimes the results are like I envisioned. When they aren’t, it’s decision time – do I continue or start ripping. I’ve done both!. I do like what you’ve done so far but really like that center block with the fairy and outside border. If you’d like to further accentuate the fairy, possibly FMQ with some different threads. Either way, anxious to see results.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Oh, yes, do both! Sometimes it’s great to just start over. That’s the way to get the best results. But other times it’s at least as good to take what you have and go from there. Thanks.

  5. KerryCan

    I think it’s great that you’re working on these alongside your students and letting them see you struggle and have to make changes. It must be so reassuring to them!


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