Untied, Unquilted

A few days ago I shared my new quilt top. It was buried deep inside another post, so you might have missed it.


Currently it is still a quilt top, unquilted. The name is “Untied.” This is a reference to both the African print that centers it, as well as to the freedom I felt in creating this piece. I did not measure anything, and no math was involved (beyond third grade skills, at least). I made things the size I wanted them without regard for the numbers. While I wouldn’t want to work this way on every quilt, I enjoyed it quite a bit for this one.

Step One — The Center 
I began with the African print, a fat quarter I purchased a year ago. You can see the two tan batik insets placed vertically through it. Inserting those accomplished two things. First, they allowed me to stagger the rope colors, so the orange did not line up with orange, nor blue with blue. Having the colors offset is more interesting to me than having them line up. Second, the print design broke between vertical columns of rope. While that may have been an intentional part of the design, I chose to hide it in seam allowance. The tan insets have a similar feel, and they match well with the gold and brown spider-webbing in the background of the fat quarter.

To insert the tan batik, I used Debbie Bowles’ curved piecing technique, described here. Once you’ve done it a couple of times, it’s incredibly simple. Having decided to use it on this piece, I didn’t hesitate because I was certain it would work well, and it did.

Once I finished inserting the batik, I squared up the center (made 90° corners, not made it square.)

Step Two — First Border
One of the considerations for a first border is whether to enclose the center or extend it. Diagonal lines tend to extend a center, which is one reason sawtooth borders work so well for a first border. Besides that, lines that are perpendicular to the edge extend the center. Lines that are parallel to the edge are like a hard frame and tend to close it in. My center has fairly strong vertical and horizontal lines. In addition, the pattern clearly runs off the edges of the fabric, and I wanted to maintain that effect. The border I chose does not frame the design, but extends it.

I knew I wanted to make irregular dogteeth borders for two sides. After pondering for a long time about method, this is how I did it:
1. Cut two strips of equal width and different colors.
2. Stack the strips with right sides UP for both strips. (Below both are solids, but right sides UP.) 
two strips
3. Cut with rotary cutter through in uneven diagonals. I didn’t use the ruler to cut.
cut through
4. Slide a purple kitchen cutting mat under them to transport to my machine.
picking up
5. Move EVERY OTHER top cut patch to a new line. Move the ALTERNATE EVERY OTHER bottom cut patch in line with them. Maintain the order in both lines.
6. Similar to curved piecing, match the patches up with right sides TOGETHER to stitch, maintaining scant 1/4″ seam allowance.
7. Press the strip.
8. Trim the strip to desired width.

The main benefit of this method was that I got the wonkiness I wanted but ended up with a straight strip. Even though I trimmed farther, that was easy because I was simply knocking off edges rather than trying to make adjustments for it getting way out of balance.

Now here is the part of the story that goes back to design rather than construction. I planned on these two dogteeth borders to be left and right. As soon as I attached the first one, in orange and tan, I knew it was in the wrong place. Nothing is sewn that can’t be unsewn! I unstitched. I had planned to use the brown sticks print as the top and bottom, but they became left and right.

I made the lower border of reddish print and tan triangles long enough, because I made it after deciding it would be a top/bottom border. However, the orange and tan set was too short, so I need to add more to it. I chose a yellowish solid rather than more tan. It brightens the corner and makes the whole line a little more interesting.

The narrow blue strip separating the center from the top and bottom dogteeth borders is a Marcia Derse print. It’s also the fabric in the last border. The stripey effect reminds me of the texture on a rope, as well as animal stripes or even a blue tiger maple.

Step Three — Second Border
This narrow solid teal strip is the same color as the teal rope. With its hard line, it serves as the enclosure to the center.

Step Four — Third Border
This border uses four different fabrics log-cabined around. The top and left are relatively narrow and muted. The right is a wild batik with a lot of distinct pattern and color, including oranges, teals, and blues. The bottom is one stripe of a two-stripe pattern from fabric sent by another blogger. Gwen the Textile Ranger sent me this lovely African print. Amazing, huh? When I started this project, I knew I would use a piece here. I chose to center the pyramids on the teal box, rather than on the whole length of border. This adds emphasis to the teal as a frame.

Step Five — Fourth Border
This was harder and stumped me for a while. First I added a narrow strip of a fabric that didn’t end up in the quilt. I liked it, but after contemplating what came after, I decided to remove it and was very glad I did!

This border had to be light to add some value contrast and allow the prior border to shimmer. At the same time, it had to have enough heft that it maintained the unity of the piece. Unity? By that I mean that nothing looks out of place, it all looks like part of a whole. If the border was light and wimpy, it wouldn’t stand up to the drama of the prior work.

I found a mottled creamy-tan print, with black spatters on it. It seemed close but not close enough to actually cut it. (I’m glad, as it will be greatly useful on some other project.) I looked through all my light stash multiple times, considering creams/tans and greens and anything else. Finally the fabric used for left and right landed in my hands at the right time. If you click on the photo at the top, it will open in a new tab. Then you may be able to enlarge to see the detail. The fabric looks like a jacquard but is actually just a print. I had less than a fat quarter and pieced it so my lengths were enough. I added the blue inset on the left side to extend the interior line of blue.

Though the border needed to be light, I also wanted to add color. The top and bottom includes the other colors using an improvised framing or sashing method. This was done all freehand and with scissors, unlike the dogteeth triangles described above. I never used scissors so much before! Can’t say I would switch, but it’s good to remember that they are an available tool, and appropriate for some use.

I attached the top and bottom with the same curved piecing method as before.

Step Six — Fifth Border
Final border. I wasn’t sure this would be the final, but as I looked at the center so far, and had the blue next to it on the design wall floor, it seemed to be the right punctuation.

I cut the blue across the width to capture the striping. Of course it was not quite enough length, so it was pieced to make the left/right edges. The top and bottom also were pieced. They were a little tougher to add, because of the curved piecing. In addition to the curves, the prior top and bottom had a fair amount of stretch and splay. Ultimately I got them on and then trimmed the whole to square it (made 90° corners, not made it square.) It’s not perfect and there is a little ruffle in the final top and bottom edges, but they’re workable.

Step Seven — Backing, Quilting, and Binding
It will finish at something like 43″ x 48″, though likely I’ll trim it once more when quilted. At that size, it’s best as a wall-hanging. I don’t need a fancy back so may use muslin. I don’t know how I will quilt this, but I’m considering at least some big-stitch hand-quilting. Binding will probably be a bright rusty orange, but teal is an alternative, too.

Thought Process and Stories Told
In my prior post, I pledged to share process more often. A lot of times I get wrapped up in a project and simply am not motivated to talk about it until I’ve a) completed a step where I know what I’m doing or b) figured out a step where I don’t know what I’m doing. That just means you get the full data dump when I’m done, like today. I don’t include the inspirations I have just as I’m drifting off to sleep. I don’t tell you about when or where I bought particular pieces, and what other quilts I’ve used them in. The stories you get may be true, but not complete and not always very interesting, no need to protect the innocent.

Even so, there is value to me in explaining, and I hope there is some value to you in the reading.

Thank you, as always, for taking the time to read my blog.

20 thoughts on “Untied, Unquilted

  1. Hilary Clark

    Thank you for your comments on Rustic. You are far more eloquent than I am when describing what I like about a piece of art. 🙂

    This piece of yours is lovely. You asked if I had any suggestions on how you might quilt this — I can only tell you how I would quilt this — please use or lose my thoughts as you please.

    My art pieces tend to “tell” me how they want to be quilted. I felt the same when I studied your piece. Most often, the work tells me to quilt in a manner that shadows the fabric or piecing behind it. This is why many of mine with a strip-pieced “canvas” are quilted with linear lines. I also like to keep the lines of quilting fairly simple, but potentially dense, depending on the piece. I don’t FMQ and I don’t have a longarm, but I find those “limitations” work for me.

    For your piece, I see a variety of quilting, influenced by each section and all using thread corresponding to the fabric:
    Wavy ropes: Stitch just along the outer and inner edges of the ropes. Keep it simple, and allow the quilting to emphasis the shape of the ropes
    African fabric: Pick a few of the “lines” in the fabric and stitch along them. Not all, just enough to highlight.
    Black fabric: Linear stitching on the 1/4″
    Tan batiks in center & 3rd border and “circle” fabric in 3rd border: circles or curlicues
    Blue framing strips, outer border, and white with stripes: Linear stitching in the direction of the striping in the fabric
    Sawtooth borders: Follow the teeth
    Left batik in 3rd border: Xs or cross hatching
    3rd border, bottom fabric: This one stumps me — I’m leaning towards horizontal straight stitching, broken at the black “towers”. I see a single line of stitching centered in the black and following the shape.
    4th border, right & left fabrics: gentle squiggles, elongated S shapes
    4th border, top & bottom: Vertical lines on strips with no squares, horizontal lines on light portion of strips with squares, and a few graduated squares within the squares (2-3)

    I may have provided more information than you wanted; I got rather excited about the idea of working on a piece with so much opportunity for different stitch patterns!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Oh my goodness, thank you so much for taking so much time and thought on this. I’ll have to chew on it a little and perhaps ask you if I have questions. Very very kind of you, thank you again.

  2. Thread crazy

    Great job at explaining your design process. I do like the tan and brown sawtooth border and you are so right that first border does extend the center block. You never cease to amaze me and I always enjoy reading your thinking process. By the way, have you decided whether to “tie” or “quilt” the top? I think tie would add to the pizazz of your design..just my thoughts.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I want to do several things! I’m considering stitch-in-the-ditch around big elements, tying and/or big-stitch hand-quilting. I haven’t done big-stitch quilting before. I bought 3 skeins of perle cotton at JoAnns the other day, but all they had was size 5. I assume it is sized like other things, where bigger numbers means finer yarn? And blogs and websites seem to favor a finer yarn, size 8. So honestly I don’t know. I think I have to experiment first, on something else altogether. Today I did find a piece of muslin in my closet, washed already and everything, but … batting… haven’t thought about that, either. My ducks are not in a row yet, are they? 🙂

      1. Thread crazy

        I do so understand. Try taking a scrap piece of some big pattern fabric and work with that. If u are like me, you have plenty of scraps. With regards to the thrrad/yarn, you can get .

  3. Elizabeth E.

    Loved this, Melanie. I also enjoyed reading through the design process, with all the design steps outlined, one by one. I laughed when you wrote that anything that is sewn can be unsewn, as well as your nod to the fact that we all have scissors, which can be used. A good reminder. Another stellar finish. Way to go.
    (PS Since I don’t often get back to original posts, I won’t see follow-up comments unless mailed, if that matters to you.)

  4. snarkyquilter

    Bravo for talking process. Love the waviness of your strips. But, did I miss the discussion of the next to last border, top and bottom? How did you feel about going off grid there? The pops of dark in the light fabric really unite what comes before and the last blue border. I like the looseness of this and your fabric choices. As for quilting, you could possibly repeat the loop of the knot in horizontal lines.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I did mention next-to-last, top and bottom. Going off grid was okay, though I am not 100% satisfied with the outcome. The movement of including the dark fabrics in a non-line, as well as the variety of lights I used, is the best part for me. That is the effect I wanted, in that regard. Quilting method still under consideration, but all ideas are welcome! Thanks.

  5. KerryCan

    It sounds, and looks, like this was lots of fun to do, but probably hard for you, too, since you are usually so analytical and plan so carefully. Playing can be hard work!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      The hard part, actually, was deciding how to deal with the light-valued border. Most of the rest of it, once I actually committed to starting, was pretty easy.

      And no worries on my analysis and planning. The new project I have going now makes up for that. 🙂

  6. norma

    I enjoyed hearing about how you decided the design of this quilt. I like the free feeling you’ve got in the quilt. Really showcases your African fabric.

  7. knitnkwilt

    I always appreciate hearing about design decisions and what might have been and why it isn’t. New to me was the idea of borders enclosing or opening what they surround. I’ll defnitely make use of that info.Oh, and I like the quilt. 🙂 I love the one strip of blue so carefully placed in the tan border.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks very much. Yes, when I realized that about enclosing/extending, that was a big revelation for me, too. It changed how I look at that decision, especially in the first couple of borders.

      🙂 THanks for the comment on the blue strip. That was a little self-indulgent but I like it, too.

  8. katechiconi

    A design dump at the end is better than no process information at all! I loved this insight into your decision making process. I like this quilt very, very much, and some of your fabric choices are quite inspired. I can’t resist the temptation to suggest you *tie* this quilt….

      1. katechiconi

        I’ve only ever made one tied quilt myself, and it wasn’t exactly conventional. I tied it with wool tapestry yarn, and the knots were on the back instead of the more usual front tie. I fluffed the ends to make fuzzy blobs, and the quilt had a fleece backing. It was for my very old father, to keep his bony knees warm! The relevant post is here: https://talltalesfromchiconia.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/the-tufty-club
        I believe it’s most common to use perle cotton through all the layers and tied on the top, with the ends cut to about 3/4 or 1/2 inch lengths. I’ve also seen very pretty versions done with narrow satin ribbon. The ties need to be about a handswidth apart, and arranged in a fashion to suit the design of the quilt. A drop of fray-check on the knots can help prevent them coming apart.
        If I was planning to tie your quilt, I’d use a variety of heavy perle cottons matched to the various colours you’ve used, so that the ties were there, but blended in with the colours they were against. Does this help?

        1. Melanie McNeil Post author

          Yes, I think perle cotton is considered the standard but not only way to tie. I made a big bed quilt for Son several years ago that I tied. I’ve made nicer quilts for him, but it is still his favorite. I used plain old acrylic yarn for it, which worked fine.

          And yes, different colors of thread/yarn would be good. Thanks for the ideas.


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