Category Archives: Creativity

What Makes It Interesting?

Not just beautiful, not just well-crafted. What makes a quilt interesting, one you want to look at for a long time? One that keeps bringing you back to it?

In these questions, I am not thinking of “art” quilts or wall-hangings. Rather, I’m thinking of quilts, whatever their style, that might be used as a bed or lap quilt.

What design characteristics make a quilt interesting? Is it easier to answer if asked what makes a quilt boring?

What makes a quilt uninteresting (to me):

  1. nothing unexpected
  2. perfect symmetry including all use of placement, shape, color, value, pattern, texture
  3. no sense of movement, nothing to direct the eye
  4. too much repetition — same shapes in same colors with same placement
  5. no repetition, too much movement, chaos — if there is too much going on, I shut down
  6. “perfection”

Things that can make a quilt interesting to me:

  1. something unexpected
  2. balance with asymmetry of placement, shape, color, value, pattern, or texture
  3. movement, a sense of direction
  4. rhythmic repetition
  5. imperfection

Here are two quilts I made in 2017, for comparison. In some ways they are the same, with solid white backgrounds and lots of open space. They are both “pretty,” I think. But one is more interesting (to me) to look at than the other.

Dizzy. 60″ x 60″. 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Fire & Ice. 68″ x 68″. 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

So what’s the difference? In some ways, Dizzy is more interesting than Fire & Ice. Dizzy has more colors. It’s kind of fun to track the block colors back into the floral print border. There’s more value differentiation in Dizzy than in Fire & Ice.

But to me, Fire & Ice keeps my eye for longer. There is more to it that is unexpected, or requires more time to consider. There are more shapes and different angles in it, while Dizzy has only two basic blocks, the pinwheels and the variable (sawtooth) stars. In Dizzy, the blocks’ colors are also symmetrically arranged. If you see one quadrant of the quilt, you don’t need to see the rest. While that is essentially true for Fire & Ice, the repetition alludes to other shapes, rather than directly repeating. The outside corner blocks use a “wing” shape from the center block, but they frame different shapes. The solid red lines are various widths. The center block suggests some puzzles to its construction. The positive/negative space use of alternating hourglass blocks creates the main movement.

Besides, that, the design of Fire & Ice is far from perfection. The proportions of shapes are not quite right. The border of alternating bars has an even number, meaning the line is not symmetrical. There’s a lot of white space in the final wide border, especially as compared to the hourglass border. Some shapes are big and some are small. The lack of perfection is exactly what makes it most interesting.

To me, it’s useful to consider what makes an interesting quilt, because I want to make quilts that are interesting. I want to make quilts that someone might linger over for a long time, taking in the details. Ones that have a story to tell through their design. Ones that carry little surprises. Ones that pose some challenges in the making.

What characteristics make you linger over a quilt? Why do you keep looking? When you think of your own quilts, which ones do you still enjoy looking at, and why? When you think of “interesting,” what do you think of?

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I Love Blogs That

* tell stories
* tell about process, if the blog is about making
* use words thoughtfully
* inspire the reader
* show the writer cares about the reader.

These are blogs I follow, and this is the kind of blog I want to create.

I’ve been blogging at WordPress for more than four years. And I’ve enjoyed reading here for just as long. However, many of the bloggers I used to follow have dropped out of the process. They no longer write, or at least, not using the same url. I’d love to find a few more blogs, thoughtfully written, to follow.

Do you have favorite blogs to recommend? What do you look for in blogs you follow? They can be WordPress blogs or anyone’s!  They can be quilting blogs or any kind! Please tell us in comments. ALSO please stop back through, comment on other comments, add more as you think of them! Let’s have a conversation about great blogs we enjoy. I’ll look forward to your thoughts.

Stripes Two Ways

When my son was very little, most shirts I bought for him were striped. Soft knit, pullover shirts, their stripes were horizontally arrayed in reds and blues and greens. In summer they were “muscle shirts,” sleeveless Ts, and in winter they were turtlenecks. But almost all of them were striped.

This photo is of Son when he was two. On that day he was covered in stripes and spots.

OHmygosh, wasn’t he cute??

But when he was a little older, he called a moratorium on stripes. No more stripes. The declaration created some conflict as he was growing out of his striped shirts, but he was a boy who knew his own mind. There was no use buying shirts he’d never wear. I asked why stripes were not acceptable.

“Grown-ups wear stripes, and I am not a grown-up,” he told me.

“What about plaids? Will you wear plaids?” I asked.

“No. Plaids are just stripes two ways.”

Then one Christmas when he was about six, his beloved grandparents gave him a flannel shirt. Soft and nappy, it had stripes, two ways.

He wore it to please them. Once. Maybe twice. And then it hung in his closet for twenty-some years.

If you know me, you know I easily get rid of things that are no longer needed. But I never could get rid of this little shirt. For a long time I imagined making a pillow out of it, as my sister had done with his Dan Marino sweatshirt. (When he opened the Dan Marino pillow, he exclaimed, “I have a sweatshirt JUST LIKE THIS!”)

Still, the shirt hung in his closet. Until this week. After washing it, I cut it apart, front from back, sleeves from body, cuffs from sleeves. There was surprisingly little useful fabric in it. But with piecing, there was enough to cover a 12″ x 16″ pillow form.

The button placket serves as the closure for the cover. I’ll tuck a note in the chest pocket to tell him the pillow’s story, with the memory of his grandparents and his firm declaration that plaids are just stripes two ways.

Do You Use Solids In Your Quilts?

Do you quilt with solid fabrics? If so, do you create quilts from all solids, or do you mix them in with other fabrics?

The question arises from a comment on my recent post about quilting rules. The comment (from my sister) said one of her rules is no solids. Huh.

I don’t use solids a lot, and in truth prefer tone-on-tone prints. I think they offer more depth and interest, while solids can read rather flat. But solids have a long history with quilting, from the classic red, white, and green quilts of the early 1800s, to the Amish, to contemporary quilting.

When I do use them, it’s typically as one more source of color in a quilt with many types of prints. However, I have made a couple of quilts that were of only solid fabrics.

Daughter’s medallion in solids. 2014.

Branching Out. 2015. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

A question often comes up about solid fabrics sold at chain stores, like JoAnn Fabrics. JoAnn’s sells solids under two or three different labels. One label (brand) is Kona Cotton Solids. Are Kona solids at JoAnn’s the same as Kona solids at a quilt shop? If you buy something called “Kona” at the quilt shop, it also will show the maker as Robert Kaufman. JoAnn’s doesn’t say that.

Who makes JoAnn’s Kona solids? Are they made by Robert Kaufman or some other manufacturer? Are they Robert Kaufman second-quality goods?

Bonnie Hunter’s Quiltville blog addressed this question in 2014. Bonnie and Robert Kaufman answered definitively. I encourage you to read the whole answer provided by Robert Kaufman. However, I’ll summarize here:

  1. Robert Kaufman makes ALL Kona Cotton Solids, regardless of retailer.
  2. ALL Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton fabrics distributed are first quality. Seconds are destroyed.
  3. If you find fabric labeled as Kona Cotton Solids that appears to be of lower quality, the company would like you to mail them a sample.

Where should you buy your Kona Cotton Solids? Many of us like to patronize our local quilt shops, ensuring their success to keep them in our communities. Many of us like the coupons and sales offered by JoAnn Fabrics, or the convenience of shopping various vendors online. As with most of the rest of my fabric purchases, I will continue to buy at JoAnn’s now and then, and make sure I support my local shops, as well.

How to Finish UFOs

After speaking with friends about their UFO piles, I decided to republish this post from early 2016. Remember, YOU get to decide what “finished” means. It can simply mean, there, dammit, I’m FINISHED with this thing! 

For me, I have a small number of UFOs going right now. The six star points shown at the bottom of the post are no longer a UFO — except I haven’t bound the quilt yet! 


UFO: Unfinished Object; an art or crafting project that was begun but not finished, with some extended delay in making progress toward completion. The creator still intends to complete it, differentiating it from an abandoned project. UFO is a common term in quilting and knitting, but can apply to other creative endeavors such as writing, scrapbooking, painting, etc.

Over the last year or so, I’ve seen a lot more emphasis in quilting blogs on UFOs. Last year was a movement toward “A Lovely Year of Finishes,” complete with a button, goal setting, and linky parties. This year’s version is “One Monthly Goal,” or OMG. I love that these encourage quilters to complete their projects, just as Stashbusters has been doing for years.

But the question often comes up of what to do with projects you DON’T WANT TO FINISH. It just isn’t going to turn out the way you’d imagined, or it’s boring beyond tears, or you hate the process, or it was intended for someone not in your life anymore. In truth, you want to abandon it, but you don’t want to be a quitter, or don’t want to waste the effort or materials already used. What then? How to FINISH those unfinished objects?

The first thing to remember is that quilting is supposed to be rewarding and positive, not stressful and upsetting. If you look at a project and a black cloud appears above it, it might be time to make another decision. It doesn’t matter what resources already went into it. It’s too late to change that. What matters is what resources you put into it now, including time, energy, and material.

You have choices. One choice is to make a quilt of a different design than originally planned. What you do might depend on how much you have done. Do you have some blocks made? Can those blocks be assembled into a top, maybe of a smaller size or with a different setting? With sashings if there weren’t any in the original design, without if there were? On point, or with unpieced alternate blocks?

If you imagine your setting as a big 9-patch, you only need 4 or 5 pieced blocks, alternated with something else, to create a small quilt. It could be a lap quilt or a baby quilt or a doll quilt, or a table mat. A narrow table runner might need even fewer blocks.

Maybe you were part of a swap and found the blocks you received vary substantially in size. You can frame all the blocks with one fabric and then trim them to a consistent size. Then use the same framing fabric for sashing. No one will ever see the differences in size. The BEST book for dealing with swap blocks and other setting problems is Setting Solutions by Sharyn Craig. (I do own the book now.)

Maybe you signed up for an appliqué block of the month, but found you hate appliqué. If you have at least one, lovely big block, say 12″ or larger, you could make a medallion quilt with the block as the center.

Other options for a small number of blocks include a tote bag, mug rug, or placemats. My guild members make placemats for Meals on Wheels every couple of years, and nursing homes often use small quilts as door decorations for residents.

Or you could give all the blocks to someone else. Or use them as practice pieces for your free motion quilting.

If you have part of the top already assembled and don’t like where it’s going, try something new. My friend Mary at Zippy Quilts shows some great saves on improv projects she’s done.

What if you proceed and make a quilt top, what then? You can finish it and keep it, repurposing the quilt for something else. Make pillow covers or a travel bag, like Carole at From My Carolina Home. Or give the quilt to a friend or relative who would like it, donate it, make a cat bed out of it… Or don’t quilt the top. Donations often are appreciated at your real-world guild. My guild finishes a lot of unquilted tops for donations to local organizations. And once a year or so, we hold a fund-raiser auction. My friend Karen bought a beautiful quilt top at the January auction. She’s already quilted and bound it. Now she’ll give it back to the guild for a community donation quilt.

If you don’t have blocks or parts made, but simply have a pattern and fabric pulled together, take it all apart. Restash the fabric if you want. Or if the fabric gives you bad memories or no longer meets your quality standards, give it away, too.

Finishing UFOs does not require making a quilt. Finishing can mean throwing them away or passing them on. You can put them in the burn bin, you can wash the car with rags made from them. Finishing means declaring you are DONE with that project. Then it is NOT a UFO, it is a FO, Finished Object. DONE.

The most important thing to remember with UFOs is there is NO ONE who gets to decide how they are finished or disposed of, except you. If you don’t want to finish it, don’t. Life is too short to spend it on stuff (like this) you don’t want to do. If you don’t make the quilt, no one will die and no one will go to jail. NO bad thing will happen.

Here is my one UFO. Yes, one. This one got stuck because I didn’t know how to set and border the 6-pointed star. Now as I look at it, I don’t love it, or the idea, as much as I did when I started it. I’m not ready to abandon it, but I probably won’t hurry to finish it, either.

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Tell me about your UFOs. What stops you from finishing? And how do you get them going again?