Author Archives: Melanie McNeil

About Melanie McNeil

Quilter, Designer, Teacher, Writer

Project Process

I’ve been procrastinating on writing more about my Wind River Beauty project. The first two posts were about some of the math involved with developing the design, and my intention is to share my decision-making as I created it. With quilting still to do, it’s still in process and I don’t feel “late” with my report. However, it isn’t one of those projects that has flowed naturally from start to finish, as if freed fully grown like Athena from Zeus’s brain. As it was with making it, I’m struggling with knowing how to write about it.

To help organize my thoughts (and indulge in some productive procrastination,) I’ll write instead about the project process.

A hundred years ago I designed and wrote software, so I learned to think in flow charts. Later when I taught principles of wealth management to undergraduates at the university, I used a very simple idea to discuss the overall process. It’s the same process used for any problem-solving or project work. It all begins with identifying the problem to be solved. Here are the basic steps:

How does this translate to quilting? Anytime we undertake a quilt project, we first need to identify the objective. Sometimes that is easy and sometimes not. Possibilities include wanting to use particular scraps or orphan blocks, making a special-occasion gift, or creating for a contest or challenge. Really, the potential “problems” to be solved or objectives to be met are personal and related to a moment in time, for most of us.

After identifying the problem or objective, we come up with possible solutions. Again, there are endless options. However, they are limited by constraints and available resources. Special-occasion quilts are, by their nature, constrained. You generally choose to make a quilt for the occasion itself, or specifically to suit the receiver. Last year I made a graduation quilt in white and pale greys, based on the request of the graduate. Or perhaps you want to make a quilt with appliqué but your skills are limited. That probably will affect the design you choose. Resources can include time, money, or available supplies. Or, if you need someone else’s help, like a longarm quilter, their availability and cost might affect your plan.

Given all the possibilities and the constraints and resources, you choose the best option as you see it, and begin making. Once begun, almost every project has its share of challenges, which requires another cycle through the steps of problem and possible solution identification, along with the constraining factors. For instance, if you originally planned to make a baby quilt to present after a baby is born, but then are invited to a baby shower prior to its birth, your available time may be reduced by several months. That can call for a change in plans, perhaps simplifying the original design, or choosing to use only three fabrics instead of a range of scraps.

Finally (whew!) the project is complete. Of course, other challenges might arise from that, including how best to use scraps, putting away the supplies, storing or giving the quilt, and choosing the next project. And the cycle begins anew.

***

Though the basic look of the Wind River Beauty project was clear to me from early on, it’s had its share of challenges. To be clear, nothing in particular has gone wrong. I had to change strategies on construction at one point, and available fabric led to decisions that might have been different without that constraint. And my current skills at quilting (and its design) have slowed the finish. Is this very different from most projects? Not particularly. Perhaps none of them really are Athenas, springing fully formed from the head of the creator. 

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The Key to Happiness

Some people say that the key to happiness is having lower expectations. Yesterday I had incredibly low expectations for myself and managed to beat them, which made me happy. So I guess it’s true!

Beyond going to the gym and doing a small amount of housework (emphasis on “small,”) I also learned a new skill that will help with an upcoming project.

My project will use an airplane in the center block. For a long time I figured to appliqué something, but recently I decided I’d rather piece it for better durability and so there isn’t the stiffness or chemicals of fusible web in the quilt. Hmm, piecing an airplane? That sounds like a job for paper piecing!

I have done paper piecing, and I’ve drawn my own papers for it, but they were quite simple. An airplane is more complex that a border of triangles. A search for available patterns didn’t coming up with the specific airplane I want, and I figured I’d need to draw my own. My next search was for tips on designing your own foundation patterns. Low and behold, I found the video at this link. It shows the steps to use in EQ7 for creating a paper-piecing pattern. (It couldn’t be embedded, so if you want to see it, you need to click the link.)

I have EQ8 software, but was able to “translate” the instructions to the current version. It helps to both slow down the speed of play and stop it regularly, to catch up to directions. I learned how to import an image into the block design worktable, and then use the drawing tool to simplify the image as a pieced block. The video then showed how to prepare the pattern for printing. It was so much easier than I could have imagined!

Here is my block, colored as if it were in fabric.

And here it is with the seam lines drawn in.

The software then separates and numbers the patches for the pattern. It is SO COOL.

Can I manage to keep my expectations or ambitions in check? Maybe not. Here is a list of things I have queued up:
* Finish quilting the rooster collage applique; bind and label it.
* Make the back for my Wind River Beauty project; load it, quilt it, bind and label it.
* Make and attach a label for a neighbor’s baby quilt, now that the baby has been born and has a name.
* Try creating the airplane block as above. If it works, move the rest of the project along.

I always think I can achieve more in any time frame than I really can. That might be optimism, and I haven’t unlearned it after all these years. It can make me feel a little disappointed and stressed when things don’t go as planned. But deliberately setting low expectations for a few days gives me permission to take my time, recapture pleasure, and look forward to the next steps. That’s the key…

I Love Lucy

Lisa was another band mom at the high school. Unlike me, she’d been through band-mom years before, and she taught me the ropes. We saw each other at concerts and volunteering with marching band. We roomed together on the band trip, taking 200 teenagers to Orlando. We co-chaired the sectional jazz band festival for two years. We called each other “Lucy” and “Ethel,” famous for getting each other in over our heads.

After our sons graduated high school, we didn’t spend as much time together, and we weren’t as close. But she is still very dear to me.

In 2011 I made a quilt for her using some “I Love Lucy” quilting fabric I found. She’s used it a lot over the last few years, and even more since the middle of 2017. In June that year she was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer.

She’s spent a lot of time in treatment and in recovery. She went back to work, and last Friday she was able to retire.

Monday she was admitted to the hospital. In late fall she was told the cancer had reappeared. Of course it was never fully gone. Treatment options are limited at this point, but they’ll investigate the possibilities.

This is the quilt I made for her. It suits her now better than ever. She is irrepressible, my Lucy/Lisa.

Wind River Beauty, Math Part 2

Wind River Beauty is the  name I’ve given to my current project. I’m using the New York Beauty center (shown below) along with 45° diamond star arms. The overall look is of a Lone Star or Star of Bethlehem variation.

In Math Part 1 I noted that my Wind River Beauty quilt center is 17″. In fact, the block as designed by Toby Lischko finishes at 16″, which is a more typical, or perhaps more useful, size for a quilt block or medallion center. I first built it as a 16″ block according to her instructions, and then I rebuilt the orange surround to finish at the larger size. The 17″ block allowed two things. First, it made the proportions of the block better, once the corner treatment was added. And second, it made the math easier for the next stage.

Proportion

I previously wrote about proportion in three posts (here, here, and here.) In the first post, I covered the proportions of the center block design. In the first picture, the circle is tangent to the sides of the square. The size seems to crowd the square, and may seem “too big.” In the second picture, the circle floats in the square and seems “too little” within a sea of background. The one on the right, to my eyes, seems “just right.” It is still related to the edges of the square while not touching them.

For the Wind River Beauty (my name for the quilt,) once I decided to create an octagon of the background orange fabric, I knew it would need to be larger. A slightly bigger block makes more room for the corners, without crowding the inner circle. As shown below, the width of orange is approximately the same as the width of the teal circle. If the block were 1″ smaller, the orange width would be skimpy. Overall, the proportions are better with it bigger.  

More Math

Another reason the make the block bigger is some more quilt math. The diagonal of the square is 1.414 times the length of the side. (See the Pythagorean theorem review in the prior post for details.) The diagonal measure of a 17″ block is 17″ x 1.414 = 24.04″, or just over 24″. Half of the diagonal, or just to the very center of the block, is 12″, which is much easier to work with than the result from a 16″ block.

Look at the illustration below of an 8-pointed star. The very fine line draws a square, representing the center block of the quilt. The square is 17″ on each side. The diagonal all the way from corner to corner is 24″. Half of the diagonal, represented by the dotted segment B, is 12″. Each of the star points in orange and turquoise is a 45° diamond. All four sides of a diamond are the same length. A is the distance along the right edge of the turquoise point. A and B are the same length, 12″. With the 12″ length I could build out the star with relatively easy piecing.

As mentioned before, the design of the quilt is a variation of a Lone Star or Star of Bethlehem quilt. The sketch from EQ8 below gives a glimmer of how this will work. On this picture I drew two squares the same size. One is rotated 45° from the other, around the center point. You might be able to see that the octagon formed by the overlap is marked with a heavier line.

If you compare the illustration with my center block above, you can see that the corners of my center block, in purple, are like the corners beyond the octagon.

In the next post on this quilt, and past most of the math, I’ll show you next steps for construction.

Wind River Beauty, Math Part 1

In 2017 Jim and I drove thousands of miles in a number of different trips. When you’re in the car together that much, literally a few inches apart, it helps to have entertainment. Fortunately, we like to talk with one another, so the types of things one might muse about silently instead become topics for conversation. For example, after noticing a stop sign and considering how it looks like a snowball block, I asked, “If you start with a square and want to make a regular octagon from it, how do you calculate the length so each of the 8 sides is the same?” Huh?

Okay, look at the two illustrations below. The one on the left is a stop sign. It’s a regular octagon, meaning that all of the angles are equal and all of the lengths are equal. The diagonal segments of the octagon are the same lengths as the horizontal and vertical segments. I noted the dimensions as a for the vertical and horizontal segments, and c for the diagonal segments. As you can see, a = c. (Click the image to open the gallery and see larger.) The segment lengths are all the same. The dotted segment noted as b is not part of the octagon. If you extend the vertical and horizontal lines to create a square, b is the extension.

On the right is an illustration of a square, red & white snowball block. (This specific snowball block is designed to pair with something like a 9-patch block.) For the octagon (white, 8-sided shape,) the angles are all the same. However, the lengths of the octagon line segments are not the same. The diagonal segments of the octagon c are longer than the horizontal and vertical segments a. Why? For this particular block, each side of the square is cut in thirds; a = b. Going down the left side of the square, the top red segment b is equal in length to the center white segment a, which is equal to the lower red segment. The equal lengths make it easy to pair this block with a 9-patch. But the equal lengths of a and b mean the diagonals c are longer by a factor of 1.414. The general idea is the same for all snowball blocks, with the length of c the diagonal dependent on the length of the two triangle legs. See the primer on the Pythagorean theorem at the bottom of the post if you want to know more. 

So how do you take a square and make a regular octagon from it? I’m not bad at math but will be the first to admit I didn’t learn my geometry. Jim worked it out for me. What he found is

b = .707a
2b = 1.414a
==> side of the square = 2b + a = 2.414a

Why does it matter? At the time it was just curiosity, but I quickly found a project to apply it. In spring of 2018 I took a workshop with Toby Lischko on making New York Beauty blocks. She taught a simple way to use curved rulers and paper piecing to create these lovely, complex blocks. This was mine.

After I made it, I thought about how to use it to center a quilt. My design idea would work best if the center was a regular octagon.

With Jim’s formula in hand, knowing the size of the square, I solved for a and b, which let me know how big to cut the stitch-and-flip squares to make the corners.

I wanted a center block finishing at 17″. (Why 17″? That comes later, more math!) That means
side of the square = 2b + a = 2.414a
17 = 2.414a
a = 17/2.414 (just dividing both sides by the same number to solve for a)
a = 7.04, or just barely over 7″.

Since the finished side of the square is 17″ and a (the center segment) is 7″, the other two segments b are 5″ each. I cut my stitch and flip corners 5.5″ each. This is the result. The finished length of the diagonals (along the purple/orange seam) is the same as the finished length of the orange segment along the horizontal and vertical sides of the square. 

Pythagorean Theorem

Here’s the concept. The picture below shows a triangle that is 1″ on the vertical and horizontal sides. The diagonal measures 1.414″, which is the square root of 2″. (Check with your calculator if you don’t believe me.)

Sq_rt_of_2
For a right triangle, the square of the length of the diagonal (hypotenuse) is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. We often see this expressed as a² + b² = c². To find c, take the square root of c².

In the case to the left, a = 1; a² = 1; b = 1; b² = 1; a² + b² = c² = 2; c is the square root of 2, or 1.414.

In fact, the diagonal of every square is 1.414 times the length of the side. So
length x 1.414 = diagonal.

1″ x 1.414 = 1.414″
2″ x 1.414 = 2.828″ or close to 2 7/8″
3″ x 1.414 = 4.242″ or close to 4 1/4″
4″ x 1.414 = 5.656″ or close to 5 5/8″
and so on.

That also means that if I know the diagonal of a square, I can find the length using
diagonal/1.414 = length. For example
6″/1.414 = 4.243″, or very close to 4 1/4″.
This is also useful in the next step of the Wind River Beauty.

Agreed, you gotta be something of a math nerd to work through all this. I’m glad all my quilts don’t require this process, but it’s a wonderful tool to use for a few.