Branching Out — The Challenge

My local guild has an annual challenge. In the eight years I’ve been a member, I’ve participated a couple of times. For the red and white challenge in 2012, I entered this quilt using a wedding ring block. I designed the setting.

The red and white challenge quilt, also known as the hunger quilt. A friend “purchased” it from me, giving the price to a local food pantry. It’s about 70″ square. 2012.

I didn’t win. My guild has very talented members.

Really, the goal isn’t to win. It’s to challenge yourself, in the process building skills and creative power.

This year’s challenge, issued last September, is to create a quilt from all solids, using at least three colors. I use solids, but generally I mix them with patterns of one type or another. Last fall I made a small quilt all in solids. It is pretty but not very interesting.

In fact, solids are not very interesting to our eyes. They are flat and don’t provide any sense of depth, rhythm, or contrast. Unlike patterns, they don’t hold attention, as we quickly determine there is nothing more to see.

There are a number of ways to make solids more interesting in a quilt. One is by covering them with beautiful quilting to add texture and pattern, as the famously solid Amish quilts do. Another is to use them in unexpected ways. Unusual color combinations or arrangements of elements can hold interest, even when the fabrics individually do not. In a block quilt, that could mean an unusual layout of the blocks. In a medallion, using asymmetric borders might draw us in. A lot of solid modern quilts successfully break the grid altogether.

I don’t want to spend time making an uninteresting quilt with uninteresting fabrics. I’ve had a hard time feeling inspired to begin this challenge. That changed recently when I saw a photo on a blog. Notice the quilt hanging on the left, obscured by the chandelier.

Look at the photo on the far left, behind the chandelier.

I don’t know if it is made in solids, and it doesn’t matter. The arrangement of elements — color, value, shape, line — is unexpected, interesting, and held my attention. I sent the photo to my sister and said, “I want to make THAT quilt! Except of course I don’t want to make someone else’s design.”

Challenge: design and make a quilt in all solids of at least three colors. How can I use solids in a new, interesting way? Seth Godin writes:

This is a challenge I can meet. I will try to pull a hat out of a rabbit, turning the question upside down, to do it backwards, sideways, or in some way significantly more generous or risky.

I have a plan and last week I began construction. Since then we’ve had company a couple of times, slowing me down. In a few days I’ll have a finished top and will show you the work in progress.

How do you challenge yourself? Do you seek out new problems? Or do you try to solve problems in new ways? 


14 thoughts on “Branching Out — The Challenge

  1. katechiconi

    Sometimes, if I’m working on a quilt for someone else and the colours they love are not colours I love so much, I try and interrogate the ‘personality’ of the colour I’m working with; what it symbolises and what it works with best, what sort of background it works on, is it so strong it needs to be used sparingly, or so low volume that it needs to be boosted by something else? Generally the quilt then tells me what it wants or needs. I’ve ended up with quite surprising results sometimes, and a quilt I thought I wouldn’t enjoy much has turned out to be distinctive, strong and eloquent of the person it’s intended for.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Working with colors I don’t love is definitely a challenge! And yes it takes a different approach. But if you’re paying attention to the work, and if you’ve developed some problem-solving skills for design, you can end up with a remarkable quilt.

  2. colorpencil2014

    I love that red and white quilt, so delicate and the pattern comes out so beautiful. But the quilts in the store are gorgeous too. Well, you know I am not a quilter, but I do love quilts and find them inspiring. My challenge is of course my drawing, every day, every new class, every commission brings new problems to solve. And I challenge myself with my knitting. For now I am resolved to master the mysteries of the steek! xo Johanna
    ps love your new gravatar!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I think the challenge within a particular medium is trying new things while speaking with the same voice. I WANT my quilts to look like I am the maker, but I also want each one to have its own personality. And I want to learn new ways to use the available tools. Perhaps it is the same with your artwork. Thanks about the gravatar. I loaded a couple of new ones but decided to go with the catbirds. 🙂

  3. KerryCan

    It’s funny how different our aesthetics are, Melanie! I think my favorite quilts are done with solids and I love your red and white quilt, maybe the most of all the ones I’ve seen of yours!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I would love it more if I hadn’t made it during a very hard time. It was …painful … and I cried when I finished it. Of course at that point I was crying every day anyway… But the composition is very good, if I do say so myself. Thanks.

  4. snarkyquilter

    Quilting, and life, would be so boring if I didn’t have new challenges. I think I’ve only repeated one quilt pattern over all the years I’ve quilted. As for solids, if I’m working out a design, I like using them as the piecing lines aren’t obscured by a print. Nancy Crow makes her students use only solids for that reason. Also, I value having no wrong sides (assuming I’m using yarn dyed fabric), a real plus when paper piecing. Then, you can get great transparency and luminosity effects with solids. Finally, they’re a bit cheaper than prints.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I do love no wrong sides! And the price is somewhat less than prints, which I appreciate, too. As to piecing, they do work best for people who are relatively good at it, or whose work does not depend on the crisp contrast solids can offer (like curved and/or art piecing… I am not articulate on this right now.) This thing I’m working on now would be best if every intersection were perfect. Just not gonna happen. But enough of them are good enough that I’m satisfied anyway.

      thanks for taking a look.

  5. Thread crazy

    For the most part, I love solid color in quilts. There are some prints that I’ve worked with when making a quilt for someone else, that hasn’t been my favorite, so I’ve used more solids to offset the print. I think solid colors are a “clean and fresh” , presenting no designs to distort their value. They have their place in a quilt, just as tone-on tone, dots, etc., depending on arrangement they tend to stand out more, at least that’s my take on solid colors. Like the red and white quilt – gives a clean and fresh look.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Yes, they have their place, for sure. I do think they (as other fabrics) need to be used with thought, as your example points out. As to the red and white quilt, the white is solid white. The red is actually a red on red print. 🙂


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