Category Archives: Creativity

A New Use for Quilts

Today in east central Iowa, the temperature won’t get above 0°F. My son emailed from Oklahoma, where it is windy and not much warmer, unusually cold for his location. His gas company sent a notice asking residential customers to reset their thermostats to 60-65° during the day and even colder at night, because of unusually high demand for fuel. Brrrr!

We are all lucky, though, and can stay in where it’s safe and cozy, tucked under quilts to keep warm.

A creative person might think of a different use for quilts on a windy, cold day. Jim stumbled on this anecdote as he was researching genealogy sources for western Illinois:

Thomas Camp, in 1849, settled near where the present town of Good Hope is situated. All north of him for many miles was one vast, unbroken wilderness, with not a house or dwelling of any kind, and also perfectly void of timber. A few winters after his settlement upon the prairie, there came a heavy fall of snow, and upon the top of that a sleet of rain, which freezing, formed a solid crust on top, and over which a man could walk or slide. Mr. Camp thought he would have a good sleigh ride; so taking a sled out several miles from his house, and rigging it up with quilts for sails, he jumped in, and there being a brisk northwest wind, he was soon sailing over the prairies. The wind being so strong he could not lower his sails, although in a measure he was able to direct his course, and therefore, on arriving at home, he could not stop, but run into an out-house, wrecking his prairie schooner and almost losing his life. He never tried the experiment again, although he declared it was a perfect success.*

So if you get a notion to go outside and you have a sled, a quilt, and a broad stretch of icy landscape, you could give it a try, too!

*Source: History of McDonough County, Illinois, Its Cities, Towns, and Villages with Early Reminiscences, Personal Incidents and Anecdotes, and a Complete Business Directory of the County, by S. J. Clarke, published in 1878, page 593. Extracted 30 Jul 2016 by Norma Hass. Via this link https://mcdonough.illinoisgenweb.org/1878remicamp.html

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New Work, Subject to Change

The point of blogging and the point of quilting, for me, is enjoyment. And self-expression. And moving things around until I get them “right.” I just finished reading a blog post by Austin Kleon, author/artist/poet who wrote Keep Going, among other books.

In his blog post, Kleon calls blogging a “forgiving medium,” because even after a piece is published, the author can edit easily. Usually no one is the wiser, and if they are, usually they are kind about it.

Quilting is like that, to a point. I’ve changed quilt tops in small ways and large, at all stages of construction. Of course, once quilted, it’s harder to make changes. Even then, though, there are opportunities to embellish, add stitching, or judiciously change colors with markers or paints. My friend Joanna Mack The Snarky Quilter changes finished quilts regularly, to positive effect.

I have a new project, and as with almost every project, it already isn’t what I expected. I started with this:

It’s a basic star-in-a-star featuring a large flower from a showy print. The outer corners, if you aren’t sure, are very dark navy, not black. They do rather disappear into the background. In fact, they disappear so much, they are the first thing I changed, substituting white corner triangles.

After modifying the block, I considered how to frame it. Now imagine me, chin on hand, eyes directed upward, much like a cat that isn’t really looking at anything. (We call that cat “Stuart,” even though he hasn’t lived with us for thirty years.) Pondering, pondering… And it came to me, I should frame it with the same showy print that inspired the center.

The showy print is one I bought, if I remember correctly, in Taos in 2014. And again I don’t know for sure, but it might be an Alexander Henry piece. Long ago and far away… But it’s BIG! and SHOWY! and DIRECTIONAL! And it has one more challenge: I’ve fussy cut chunks out of it a few times.

When I decided to use it, I also decided to set the center block on point. I had enough of the big print for setting triangles, if I cut very carefully.

Yeah, you can guess what happened. I cut two big squares and cut them each on the diagonal to make setting triangles. But because the print is directional, I needed to cut one square from northwest to southeast, and the other from southwest to northeast. And I didn’t. ugh. Luckily I could cut another square almost big enough and piece over a missing section.

It worked. I framed the center block with a very fine yellow line, and then set it in the showy print. Because of the visual weight, I needed to balance that with a weighty border. After rifling through stash, I had a nice array of pinks, oranges, blues, and greens.

Along with white, they became hourglass blocks to surround the magenta spacer strip.

I’m not sure what’s next. That’s okay. I can take my time, ponder the possibilities a la Stuart. I can make and unmake, do surgery to remove or transplant parts. There is nothing precious, even a piece of fabric purchased long ago and far away.

Drawers 8 and 9

I’ve slowed the drawer review (here and here) while working on other things. But it’s a useful exercise for me, uncovering some works in progress I’d stalled on, at the least, or forgotten completely at the worst.

One of the things I’d forgotten was a stack of 9-patch parts in red and light/neutral. They made up seven blocks, which is a difficult number to use by itself. Nine-patches are pretty easy to emulate, though, so last week I made another ten of them using different reds. I still had some of the light fabric, but not enough for ten more blocks, so I subbed in a couple of things that blend well. Besides the 9-patches, I made a set of 18 hourglass blocks. The hourglass blocks and 9-patches now alternate in a 5×7 block setting. With a border, they made up a perfect top for another VA hospital quilt. I’ll finish it in January for donation through my guild.

Besides the VA hospital quilt using those orphaned patches, I’m also working on an art quilt, which is also a medallion quilt. Or it’s a medallion quilt that also is an art quilt. No photos now, as I’m still feeling protective, but I’m quite pleased with it so far.

Back to the drawer review. As mentioned before, under my cutting table I have three plastic drawer units on casters. Each unit has three drawers. Over this past year when I’ve needed to mimic order in my studio, I’ve stuffed a lot of things in those drawers. It clears the surfaces, which helps me creatively! But truly it just moves the mess elsewhere, doesn’t it?

I already showed you Drawers 1 through 7. They held a broad range of things, from scraps and parts to plastic zip bags, to some intriguing projects in process.

Drawer 8 mostly holds faded intentions and motivations, along with a lot of fabric that needs to be sorted back into the stash bins. A friend of mine, Kristin, lived for several years in Wales. While there she fell in love with Welsh quilts. They are notable for the amazing hand quilting on both pieced and wholecloth quilts. Though often not made from solids, the pieced quilts are often compared to American Amish quilts, and it’s not clear, historically, to what extent designs were shared and in what direction. Many of the Welsh pieced quilts are in the medallion (or “frame”) format, so they hold extra attraction to me.

Kristin will be presenting to our local quilt guild soon about Welsh quilts. As she shared some of the information with me early in the year, I got inspired to try making quilts in the same style. I even bought this lovely book on making them. As you can see from the cover, many of the designs are for medallions. And while I love the rich, deep colors you see here, I also wondered about making them with brighter, cheerier colors.

A mixture, I thought, of greys with pinks and yellows would keep some of the traditional flavor, while also demonstrating that the format is beautiful regardless of colors used. But I also was taken with the Welsh tradition of using shirtings and suit woolens. I went to a local thrift shop and bought several shirts, including in pink gingham and yellow floral print, to use. I made one lovely little quilt (to show you another day) before losing energy and motivation. Now the fabrics, including some blacks and reds, need to be sorted back into stash.

Drawer 9 The final drawer is where I stuffed the Green Man drawings. This is another project I hope to return to in 2020. 

Now that I know what is in these drawer units, I can put some things in better places, and make a list of ongoing projects. Knowing what’s here will help me use my time better, so I can create in more satisfying ways.

Wind River Beauty, Project Process Part 1

My recent post on project process summarized the steps in project development and implementation. As fancy as project flow charts can get, it really comes down to this, a simple set of procedures that can help you make a quilt, build a highway, or write a blog post. I’ll outline how these steps apply to making the Wind River Beauty quilt, one of my current projects.

Identify problem or objective
The problem to solve or objective to meet was to create a quilt using the New York Beauty block I made in a workshop last year. The original block I made, before modifying, is below.
The fabric in the center was fussy cut from a border stripe fabric. I experimented with the symmetry as shown in this video:

Potential solutions
When thinking of potential solutions to any problem, you can switch into brainstorming mode. Think of a lot of different options, at first without evaluating them as good or bad. When you get stuck, consult one of the many articles online for tips for more brainstorming. Remember, one of the best questions to ask is “what if?”

Making the block wasn’t difficult, but I wasn’t interested in making more. That meant any quilt using it would use only the one. It could be a small quilt like a table topper; a larger ungridded quilt, such as one using the block as one of many blocks of various sizes and designs; a larger gridded one, such as one using a number of other blocks the same size, but different designs; or my specialty, a medallion quilt, featuring the New York Beauty as a center block.

Honestly, I didn’t really brainstorm. I seriously only considered making a medallion quilt, as that was my intention as I made the block. There are still infinite options open within the category “medallion quilt,” so that decision alone didn’t determine my solution, but it did give it a framework.

Beyond that, I wanted to use and honor the fabric I purchased at a trading post on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, south of Yellowstone National Park. A traditional quilt style for some Native American groups is the Lone Star, also known as Star of Bethlehem. There were many quilts of this style for sale at the trading post. If you google “Lone Star” or “Star of Bethlehem,” you’ll see lots of beautiful examples. Here is an illustration from EQ8 of the basic format:

Constraints and resources
Prior to taking the workshop, I assumed that the block, if successful, would be used to center a quilt. The feature fabric mentioned above was both a resource and a primary constraint, since I had a limited amount of it.

In fact, fabric availability is often one of the biggest constraints for my quilts. I almost always start with stash, filling in by shopping only if needed. For this project, I had to create work-arounds for multiple fabrics. I designed my border treatment to use the limited length of the feature fabric. Some colors from the center block required substitution fabrics. The yellow used for the star’s background was a particular issue. The photo below shows two yellows I tried for background. The bright yellow in the lower left corner was too strong, while the soft butter yellow served as an appropriate foil for the stronger colors of the block and star points. You can also see two different purples, and two different rusts. (The color that might look like red in the star points is actually rust in real life. The colors, in general, do not show well in the photos.)

Besides materials, time and skills are both resources and constraints, too. There is no deadline for this project. In that sense, time is a relatively unlimited resource. My skills are a resource in the sense that I’m capable of the design and piecing for the quilt (although there were piecing problems, discussed in the next post.) However, my quilting skills are “intermediate” level. Over time I’ve chosen to do custom quilting more often for my quilts. As I do, I learn more and upgrade my abilities. But I still can’t do all the things I want to do for each project.

~*~*~

This post is long enough! I’ll share more about the execution of my plan in another post. Thanks as always for taking a look.

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.

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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.