Author Archives: Melanie McNeil

About Melanie McNeil

Quilter, Designer, Teacher, Writer

The Tutorial

This is the story of how a bad thing happened, and a good thing happened because of it. But a big part of the story is how you can keep that bad thing from happening in the first place. It takes two of us to tell the story, so we agreed to write it together and post it on both of our blogs.

Melanie: I’m Melanie McNeil and I write the blog Catbird Quilt Studio. I design my own quilts, mostly medallion quilts. And I help teach other people to design, too. Part of that is showing and describing my process as I work, and part is figuring out how to do things, and then creating tutorials. I enjoy the geometry of quilts, including the math. If someone knows how to do the math, they don’t need other people’s patterns, and they are more powerful because of it.

Lorna: I’m Lorna McMahon and I blog at Sew Fresh Quilts. I design and make quilts and, after testing, offer the patterns for sale. I offer basic quilt making information as well as a variety of free quilt alongs. And host the Let’s Bee Social Wednesday linky party as a way for other quilt bloggers to meet up each week, to connect and to share what they are working on.

Melanie: So the bad thing that happened — the story starts well before that. It starts in early 2014. I wanted to use a square-in-a-square block in a quilt, the kind of block that is called an “economy block.” I didn’t know how to do the math of creating them, and I wondered if someone else had a tutorial out there that would show me. I looked at lots of quilters’ blogs. Several had tutorials on how to make a specific size of block. Some were by paper piecing and some were by cutting patches for their own size of block. None of them were generic with the math included. So I wrote one.

It explains the math (which is actually very cool) and also gave a cheat sheet for people who want to make one of several sizes of blocks without doing the math. Almost since I posted the tutorial, it’s been my most-viewed piece.

Lorna: I took on a project where a quilt fabric company sent me fabric to make a quilt. I really should know by now that this is not what I want to do. Yet, it is hard to resist the idea of being sent fabric to use. It’s just that you must then use only the fabric they have sent. I have long struggled with using prints. And this project was all prints with no solids or “reads like a solid” in the mix to break things up.

I had committed to making something and knew these prints would not be suitable for my usual style. They would not work for me to design my typically pieced block. So I started looking for an easy way to just get something made and chose a traditional block.

I looked up a tutorial to make those blocks. Made those blocks. Put it together. And my quilt was finished. But I was not proud of the quilt and dreaded posting about it. I wanted to offer something more and decided to add a tutorial to the post. But I was lazy and feeling low about the whole experience.

I found Melanie’s Economy Block tutorial online and then – I stole that tutorial. Now an explanation – not that I am attempting to excuse what I did, but rather to attempt to describe the reasons behind the why I did what I did. No, I did not simply copy and paste the tutorial. I took my own photos. Made my own charts. Omitted the math formula because I wanted the tutorial to be simpler. And did not really change much concerning the written instructions. There really isn’t much you can do to change how you say, “Place fabric A on fabric B and sew a seam”. But even if I had found a completely unique way of writing it…. It was still wrong. It was still stealing. If nothing else, at the very least, I would have stolen the style of how that tutorial was written. At the time, I must have felt that these changes would make it “less wrong”.

And I published it without another thought. That is until I received an email requesting that I remove that tutorial.

Melanie: Um. It wasn’t really a request. Recently I wanted to post about a new cool thing I found out about economy blocks, a math thing. And I googled the term just to see if there was anything new out there. The third item on the list was Lorna’s tutorial. My tutorial. I knew it was mine because I knew there was nothing else out there like it at the time I wrote it.

I was mad. And I sent her an email and commented on the post and put up a blog post of my own, asking my readers to demand she remove it. I didn’t mince words. ugh. Embarrassing. I do not always react well when I am mad, and this was a prime example of it.

Lorna: I emailed back a reply right away. I apologized and complied immediately. I did not go to the links provided in the email which would have enabled me to compare the tutorials. Even if they would not have been considered by some to be without question the same, I knew what I had done was wrong. And I was able to freely admit that. But that was not enough.

Melanie had written a post about it on her blog prior to me reading her email. But I did not get a chance to read her blog post. When I sent my apology, she edited her post. But there were comments on her blog, naming me and the tutorial I had posted. And that bothered me. Why? Why did that bother me? Selfishness again. I wanted the whole thing to simply go away.

I had apologized and deleted the tutorial. Shouldn’t this have been handled just between the two of us? No. She had every right to post about it on her blog. She did nothing wrong. And I deserved to be “named and shamed”.

Melanie: I’m gonna break in here and say “yes,” I should have first just emailed Lorna. Even if that in particular had been ugly because of my ugly mad, it would have been better to do that in private. And I’m incredibly sorry that I made it public before first contacting her. It really wasn’t fair in any way.

Lorna again: At the time, did I not know what I was doing was wrong? I had never done this in school. I knew that it was wrong to take someone else’s work, change it around a little, use a few different words. Why did I do it? That is something that I have been questioning of myself ever since.

I thought about my children. How would I feel if they did something like this in school now? How would I react? What would I do to make it clear they understood that this was wrong? Well, I would talk to them and hope that they learned their lesson of course, but I wouldn’t punish them severely. Lesson learned. And I felt I deserved that understanding too.

Then I read a piece in our newspaper about a police officer that told an inappropriate joke. He offended those in his presence and was reported. Now he is being put through a “process”. In his interview, initially I felt for him. You do one thing wrong and you are judged for that one thing, no matter how many good or positive things you did before. This is the one you are now known for. You have lost people’s trust and respect. And you cannot take it back. You cannot undo it. You cannot make it right. Then he said something about how if he was disciplining his children, if they were in his situation, he would “leave the sledge hammer in the garage”.

And it dawned on me….

I am not a child. I am a grown woman. I know better. I deserve the punishment. Because what I did was wrong. I was not afraid to admit it to the one person that I had hurt directly. I wholeheartedly apologized. I did not try to diminish what I had done. I did not try to deny it. But what I was now afraid to do was to admit it to everyone else. Afraid to lose followers. Afraid to lose sales. Afraid to lose face.

I would never have taken a person’s pattern and copied it in this way. I would not like, and have not liked, the experience of having someone copy one of my patterns in this way. It’s happened to me with blog posts. It’s happened to me when my Elephant Parade had been printed by someone else in a quilt magazine. Why did I not think of this when I took the tutorial? Why did I not simply state “This is where I found a great tutorial for making this block” and provide a link? Selfishness. And a big ego.

It took me a while to go through a range of emotions that started with selfishness, shame and fear of this coming out to everyone else. “Everyone else” includes you, if you are reading this. I wronged you too. I took someone’s work and told you it was mine. I lied to you. And I am apologizing to you now, too.

I am over the fear of losing friends. Losing followers. Losing sales. Losing respect. If all those things happen, they happen. I will go on from here as a better person. I have learned a great lesson. And I could not go on without writing this post.

Melanie: It was a bad thing that happened. She did the wrong thing, and I reacted both wrongly and out of proportion. Bad happened.

But then something amazing and good happened. Lorna and I started to email, and we found that we actually like each other. And we both love to write and analyze what we do and why and how we do it. And I think we both understand how such a thing can happen, even as an exception to our normal behavior.

We both wanted to write this post together, because the main subject of using someone else’s work as your own is important to both of us. As we emailed, we discussed — how many? — lots of situations of our own or that we’d seen where whether and how to give credit isn’t always clear. I know I fail at it on the edges, even though I try to do the right thing. So I know for people who aren’t thinking about it, it’s easy to do someone wrong.

Lorna: It was a bad thing that happened. Bottom line is – I did do the wrong thing. It was helpful for me to do more than simply apologize for what I had done. Through our email thread it became apparent to me that I also owed Melanie an explanation. Not excuses, but a real analyzation of what had caused me to do what I had done and to override what I knew was wrong.

And that is where the healing began. I was introduced to the kind and generous person that Melanie is. Through our shared emails, and as I explored her blog, I could see that she deserved the respect I had not provided her with. And I am so grateful that she was willing to make this turn into something good. At the very least, we have become friends. But we also have a desire to help others avoid the pain and hurt that was caused.

Melanie and Lorna: In a way, the first part of this post is selfish on both of our parts, confessing our sins, so to speak. If you’ve gotten this far, we’d like to  wrap up this post with a positive ending and give you some helpful information.

What are some ways to respect ownership of other people’s work? They include both giving credit appropriately and not using someone else’s work without permission.

  • Instead of writing a new post to explain something, if you have already found a well written tutorial, simply provide a link to that tutorial. And you may even want to go the extra mile – contact the author and let them know how much you enjoyed their post and tell them you would like to provide a link to it.
  • Have you seen a quilt that you liked while searching online? Don’t share that photo on your blog without first asking the person who has posted it online. If they are willing to allow you to share the photo on your blog, always provide a link to the maker.
  • Even if a quilt is antique and the maker is long gone, photos of the quilt may be copyright-protected and not in the public domain. Someone owns the quilt, and someone owns the photo. Museums often provide photos freely, but some do not. Check their policy before sharing photos.
  • Some quilt shows and exhibitions invite you to photograph. Others request you don’t. Please honor that request. For those that allow it, take a picture of both the quilt and the maker’s name card so you can give credit correctly. If you want to share the photos, get permission from the maker first.
  • Sometimes our inspirations are diffused — we like a set of colors or the idea of something, or several things. But sometimes our inspirations are specific and unique. Again, check with the source if possible, and regardless, give credit for it.
  • Copying a pattern someone else bought is stealing from the pattern designer. If you like the pattern enough to make it, and to pay for the fabrics that go into it, do the right thing and pay for the pattern, too.
  • Just as copying a pattern someone else bought is stealing from the pattern designer, if you see an example of a quilt that you like, and you don’t need the pattern to reproduce it because you can figure out the math on your own, you should still credit the pattern designer when you share about your quilt on your blog or enter it in a show.
  • And if something is free to you, it doesn’t mean it is free for you to share. Online sources, in particular, provide freebies to draw you to their site. If your friend or your blog reader wants to use the free pattern you used, give them a link to the site where you got it.
  • Don’t pass off someone else’s work as your own. Taking credit for something someone else did, even by omission, is wrong.
  • If someone else quilts for you, and you label your quilts, include the quilter’s name on the label, too. It shows respect for the quilter’s expertise.

Laws are different in different countries, so we can’t give you specific laws to go by. (Always consult legal experts in your own country if you have concerns about this!) Instead, we’d like you to consider what is fair to the originator of creative work, whether it is words, photos or drawings, quilts, patterns, or tutorials. They have put time and effort and expertise into their creation. Regardless of their intention to make money off of it or not, they deserve acknowledgement and respect for their work.

Here are a few links if you want more information and perspectives on this difficult issue.

How Copyright Affects the Quilter by Kathleen Bissett. Discusses Canadian law but also general principles.

Can You Copyright A Sewing Pattern? by Abby Glassenberg at While She Naps. Primarily discusses US law.

A Word About Ethics: Photographing Quilt Shows and Judging by Anna Hergert at Anna Hergert, Art & Design. On taking photos at quilt shows.

Why Stealing Patterns is Like Killing the Goose That Laid the Golden Egg by Sam Hunter at Hunter’s Design Studio. In particular about using patterns you haven’t paid for, but also the broader topic.

Giving Credit and Avoiding Copyright Violations by Melanie McNeil at Catbird Quilt Studio. A general discussion on playing fair, with links to other sources.

Did you Plagiarize that Quilt? by Joanne Cleaver at Chicago Tribune. A story of taking a quilt design you have found on Pinterest and making your own instructions. Is this wrong?

 

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Black Sheep Manor

Some quilts decide to be made, regardless of our intentions. Such was the case for Black Sheep Manor. This is a quilt I would not have made, if not for seeing a panel print earlier this year at a local quilt shop. The full panel had 15 small panel motifs with a country estate theme. The faux-crackled, tea-stained background with black print featured a sheep, two manor houses, a squirrel, two trees, and other assorted illustrations. This is not my typical style.

But Jim and I have friends, smart, funny, warm people, who’ve recently moved to a home they call their “Black Sheep Manor.” When I saw the black sheep on the panel, I had to get it. The quilt called to be made.

The Center Block

The black sheep had to center the quilt, but the small panel finishes at 7″. The size is better suited for a pillow or placemat than the focal point of a lap quilt. I’ve written before about enlarging center blocks with frames of various types. Adding variable star points doubles the size, and making a star-in-a-star quadruples it. But as much as I like stars, this little sheep called for something else.

To highlight and enlarge the sheep without other distractions, I chose to set it with an economy block setting. The simplicity draws the eye to the middle. Using strong value contrast with the subtlety of tone-on-tone prints emphasizes the block structure, as well.

The pattern design on the brick-colored fabric is of wheat stalks, and the pinky-tan setting triangles are printed with a deer motif. Both suit the small-farm life of our friends. These two fabrics, along with the sheep panel, set the theme for the rest of the quilt.

The Inner Borders

Beyond the economy center block, the first border of half-square triangles bursts forth to further enlarge the appearance. Here again, simplicity serves the purpose of enhancement rather than distraction. I did try a different arrangement of HST using two borders, and the effect was messy. As Jim reminded me, KISS is often the best policy. 🙂

The darker rust print edge around the HST finished the look of the center. Rather than the center appearing as a 7″ square, it is 22.5″.

The Middle Borders

Outside of the narrow rust strip is the second most important piece of the quilt. Though the sheep literally plays center stage, the wording personalizes it. Anyone could like black sheep, but there is only one Black Sheep Manor. The wording is hand-lettered using fabric markers. I printed the words on paper and then arranged a light box with an overturned plastic tub on top of a CFL utility light. I taped the paper to the plastic tub. Freezer paper on the back of the fabric stabilized it, and I taped that down, as well. I outlined the letters with a very fine-tipped pen, and then filled them in with a heavier marker.

Framing the wording on either end, and below the sheep block, are strips from the width-of-fabric panel print. On the left and right borders are paper-pieced triangles that finish 2.5″ x 3.75″. They are proportioned differently than flying geese, which lets them fit the space evenly as well as suggest pine trees. The corner blocks are of the broken dishes format.

Black Sheep Manor. Approx 58″ x 58″. September 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

The next pieced border is of larger HSTs. The HSTs repeats the shapes of the inner border, but the shifting orientation keeps them from simple repetition. It also prevents them from making a dark line on either side of the border, so it is more open and airy.

Also note the narrow strip borders on either side of the HST. These are one of the lightest values in the whole quilt. Using the light color is a bit unexpected, and it keeps the quilt from descending into dinginess.

The Outer Borders

The next border is a style called “piano keys.” I cut the piano keys border to finish at 6″ and planned to make shoofly corner blocks. Instead, I chose four of the other small panel pieces and cornered the border with them. Once their decorative “frame” was trimmed off, they finished at 5.25″, so I trimmed the piano keys to match. Aside from the corner blocks, the piano keys border is mostly dark in value.

The piano keys are made with 28 strips on each side. I made the strips into blocks of four strips each. Each block has a red, a brown (or black,) a blue, and a green strip. These are two warm and two cool. I assembled the blocks in haphazard order, and then assembled the borders only making sure that no two strips of the same color touched each other. Aside from very minimal rearrangement, the placement is random, but the colors and “temperatures” are well-distributed. This was easy! And more importantly, it is not formal or regimented, but casual.

The last border of another rusty print frames the whole. I didn’t know what width I wanted until I tried it. No elements of the quilt are very large, so a relatively narrow border worked better for proportions.

The Fabric Choices

Almost all of my quilts have at least one scrappy border. They help to integrate the multiple pieces of similar color that I use within a quilt. This quilt differs by being scrappy throughout, giving it a casual and homey feel.

Even with scraps, the look is consistent. All the colors have a golden tinge. The reds are brick red and rust; the greens are olivey; the blues all have a touch of teal; and the browns and blacks are warm, not cool. The tan or “background” fabrics also tend toward golden, not grey.

However, if you look more closely at the fabrics, you’ll notice I didn’t take the fabric patterns too seriously. They range from 1800s reproductions to a small piece of a circus print, to Kaffe Fassett. The color and value were far more important than the style of print.

To keep the dozens of fabrics from leading the quilt into chaos, there are places without scraps. For example, the center block has only three fabrics: the black sheep panel, the inner brick red triangles, and the outer tan triangles. The brick red and tan are repeated with the same fabrics for the broken dishes corner blocks. The inner strip border and the final border echo the brick red, varying it somewhat toward rust. The two pale strips borders use the same fabrics. The panel corner blocks with the piano keys emphasize the sheep by repeating the same fabric style. All these points of repetition help calm the appearance.

Except for the panel (which demanded I buy it and make a quilt with it,) all of the fabrics are from my stash, including the back. The vast majority is from scraps and small pieces. Very little is from yardage. It’s been a very long time since I worked with mostly scraps and I enjoyed it a lot.

The Quilting

I had a hard time deciding how to quilt this. I didn’t want the stitching to run rampant over the little sheep, but I also didn’t want to custom quilt the entire piece. I compromised by quilting the center very simply, with an outline of the sheep, a simple fan pattern on the brick red, and triangles of leaves and loops on the tan. For the rest of the quilt, I did an all-over leaves and loops design.

My Overall Assessment

I really fell in love with this quilt. As noted at the top, this is not my typical style, with the black-and-tan-and-country feel. But I often think my very best quilts are those I make for specific people, and I think this is one of them. Another reason I love it is because I couldn’t have made it before now. The design shows a level of expertise that I’ve developed over time. The paper piecing is a new technique for me this year. Hand-lettering the banner isn’t something I would have tried until recently. Besides the look, I enjoyed the process. The ease with which it went together is rare. Each step of the way, decisions were simple, but from a strong sense of direction, not merely from habit.

My friends received the quilt and are thrilled. They’re happy, and that makes me happy.

Class Quilts

My medallion class began last week! In class I help lead participants through the process of designing their own medallion quilts. And while they create, I do, too.

In the few weeks we have together, while each of them is making one quilt, I design and construct two. I start with very different centers and color schemes in order to demonstrate a variety of strategies.

The first one I began has a center block that features flying geese circling a star. The block design came from the Big Book of Scrap Quilts, published by Oxmoor House in 2005. The quilt pattern is called “Dizzy Geese,” designed by Joan Streck. Dizzy Geese is a block quilt, with a 17″ block made with templates.

I re-drew the block to 16″ and paper-pieced it.

Though I’ve made quilts in reds and greens before, I haven’t made one I’ve thought of as a Christmas quilt. This one will have that intention, but I’d still like to keep it lighthearted. I’ll minimize the holiday-focused prints, but refer to the occasion through shaping. For instance, the circling flying geese give the impression of a wreath.

With the intricate center, I wanted a simple first border, but one that would extend the range of color. Because the star points are a forest green print, I chose a citrus green for the border. The corner blocks add to the gold, found in the center’s green print and in its background fabric.

The second border was fun and easy to make. Take a look. The corners are just half-square triangles. The side blocks are each made of three pieces and all the blocks are same. Their orientation gives the look of a twisting ribbon as they circle the top.

And the third border is a plaid with dark green, dusky gold, and burgundy, with bright gold corners. I don’t love the dark plaid, for various reasons. But I think it will serve its purpose as the design develops. It’s easy to get hung up on individual elements, such as the color or shapes or value of a particular border. Just as you don’t have to love a particular block to have it work well in a block quilt, you don’t have to love a particular border in a medallion quilt. Every border changes every border, and it’s the final effect that counts.

I have tentative plans for the next borders, but won’t work on this more until next week.

The second quilt begins with a bear’s paw block in the center. I’m less certain of the direction for this one. I really like the center block, with its beautiful Julie Paschkis print in the large sections. And I love the batik that surrounds the block. I am not absolutely sure they work together. However, some patience is in order as I let the process play out. (Trust the process.)

Though I rarely work on two quilts in the same stage at the same time, the chaos is kind of exciting, too. We’ll see if I still feel that way in a couple of weeks. 🙂

Turning a Block On Point Twice

Friday Jim and I drove down the Mississippi River from La Crosse, WI. We were returning from a two week trip to see our son, who lives in Washington state. With 2,000 miles behind us on the train, it felt great to switch to our own car.

In Prairie Du Chien, WI, we stopped for lunch. On one wall of the diner hung a quilt with a patriotic theme. It was a medallion quilt, centered by a stylized American flag. The flag block was turned on point twice, emphasizing its importance and creating a nice, large center.

I liked the setting, and especially liked that a non-square rectangle was turned that way. It’s a setting I haven’t used myself.

I’ve written plenty about turning large blocks on point to center a quilt. In one post I described the types of blocks suited for an on-point setting, if it is only turned once. In another I showed how to do that, with the math needed to cut your setting triangles large enough. I’ve also written about turning small blocks twice, creating an “economy block.”

But I’ve never written about turning a larger rectangular block twice. Here are some cool things I learned about it.

*~*~*~*~*

The Part I Already Knew
If you turn a square block twice, you’ll double its dimensions. Consider an example of a 15” block. Turn it twice with an exact (not over-large) setting, and you will create a block that is 30” wide. Using the math for diagonals,
15” x 1.414 = 21.21”.

Now turn it again:
21.21” x 1.414 = 30”.

This block setting is often called an “economy block.” It’s an especially effective way of highlighting a small centerpiece, such as a special or fussy-cut piece of fabric.

Economy block setting – a square turned on point twice.

The Part I Didn’t Think About Much, But Probably Knew, Too
As it turns out, you can do this with non-square rectangles, too.

Non-square rectangle, squared first with unequal triangles, and again with equally-sized ones.

The Part I Didn’t Know, And Figured Out Last Night
The size relationship for both types of blocks can be generalized, and is far easier than multiplying by 1.414. If the length of the inside shape is A, and the width of the inside shape is B, the distance across the diagonal of the interior square is A+B. That means the length of the exterior square is A+B.

In the economy block example above, the interior square is 15”.
The resulting block is 30” square, or 15” + 15”.

In the second example, if the interior blue rectangle is 12” x 18”,
the resulting block is 30” square, or 12” + 18”.

The next time you want to frame a rectangle with setting triangles, remember how easy it is to determine the finished size. Length plus width of the interior rectangle (square or not!) is the width of the resulting square.

Ain’t math fun? 🙂