Category Archives: Medallion Quilts

This and That

It’s better to have too much to do than too little, isn’t it? I’ve been getting a few of my “too much” checked off my list, freeing up space for other things.

Tomorrow is my guild’s auction. We have one about every other year, bringing in a real auctioneer to lead the proceedings, and it’s a decent fundraiser for us. Since I’m both on the program committee and also president, I’ll have double duty during the meeting, as well as prepping for the sale. Guild members donate unwanted quilty things — wonder fabric (I wonder why I bought this!), kits, duplicate notions, projects in process — and the committee sorts and packages them into lots for bid. I went through my own quilt assets to choose some donations. The “big” thing I’ll contribute is a 24″ x 36″ Fiskars cutting mat, lightly used. Since I am not much of a shopper and don’t accumulate a lot, I don’t have other notions to donate, and not a lot of fabric.

Another thing on my list was a small repair. If you’re like most quilters I know, mending is NOT a welcome task. We don’t mend, we don’t do alterations, unless we absolutely have to. But my favorite purse was coming apart, with the zipper coming unstitched from the leather. Do you ever sew on leather? I figured this would be a tough project, simply from sliding a needle through the leather to restitch. In fact, the holes were large enough for me to do that easily. It took a couple of inches of backstitches to mend.

I restitched the last couple of inches.

This is the purse I got in Cuba. I almost always get compliments on it.

I also worked on my house quilt (AKA, the pink and brown strip quilt.) With Jim as my consultant, I tried arranging the flying geese a variety of different ways. (Remind me to post about all the different ways you can use them.) Putting them beak-to-butt, chasing around the quilt, is a traditional arrangement. But it seemed like way too much activity for the subdued center. We agreed it was better using fewer of them, arrayed wingtip-to-wingtip. Also, the set of geese included both teal and brown ones, as well as pink and red. I chose to only use the pink and red ones. (There are more than 80 geese left, more than enough to make an actual strip quilt. But that will wait for another time.)

Then it seemed that all that pink and red was a bit unrelenting. To break it, I used teal in the corner blocks, and a narrow border of olive green.

Notice that there are only two pieced borders in this quilt, the variable stars middle border and the flying geese farther out. There is absolutely nothing tricky about it. The rich fabric of the inner borders makes it look more intricate than it is. And the spacer blocks and unpieced strip borders mean that piecing accuracy and even “quilt math” is pretty unimportant.

Another busy week coming up, and plenty on my list of things to do. What are you working on these days?


Catching Up (Again)

Do you feel like you’re in catch-up mode a lot? I sure do. And it’s CRAZY, because my life includes few deadlines, and almost all the obligations I have are self-imposed.

Right now I’m catching up from being gone several days. Jim and I were invited to a satellite launch at Kennedy Space Center (Cape Canaveral) in Florida. It was Thursday, March 1. Without reservation I can say it was thrilling to be there, to witness in person. And I’ll also say, it was like watching a football game — you can see it a lot better on teevee than you can in person! 🙂 We’ll have more to say in a few days on our joint blog, Our View From Iowa. For right now I’ll tease you with this picture.

While we were still in the area, we took a drive through a wildlife preserve. I’m a lot more used to wildlife in the northern states than in Florida. We saw several of these ancient beasts.

Before we left on that jaunt, I finished the three “retreat” tops and their backs, and I made two of the bindings. They are now ready to quilt. The cool (and frightening) thing is, I upgraded my longarm. Yes, after intermittent fits over the last few years (my fits? or the machine’s?) I decided the old one had to go. I didn’t expect delivery of the new one until this week, but lo and behold, it was ready sooner. And honest-to-gosh, I’ve barely looked at it since then. Oh yes, I am eager to get started, but other things have been higher priority.

And my EQ7 software took to crashing after my computer’s operating system was updated. After some miscommunication between the EQ company and me, I did figure out a work-around. However, I’ve decided to upgrade my design software, too. And until I do, another project is on hold. Aye-yi-yi, as my friend Kristin would say.

Earlier this week I visited another guild to share information about the Mill Girls, textile workers in New England in the early 1800s. It was fun and gratifying — they were a terrific group. But my schedule has been kind of crazy.

AND THE MOST FUN OF ALL!!! I now have another cold, more difficult than the last two. (Yeah, all three colds in about two months. Maybe then I’ll be done with it for a while.)

So yeah, I’m catching up. This week I finally got back to sewing. My house quilt has been patiently waiting for weeks. There were (way more than) a couple of choices for what to do next. I could either maintain the proportions as square, or I could elongate it. Most of my quilts are square. I LIKE square quilts. But sometimes ya gotta do something different, and certainly this project is easier than many to make that transition.

I made 10 variable star blocks and cut non-square spacer blocks to put between them. Using spacers is a great solution for dealing with size problems, and also when a border of all pieced blocks is too busy. Variable stars have 17 patches each. That’s a lot of patches in a small block finishing at 5″, and spacers will show them off better.

This photo just gives a feel for how that will look.

After attaching the strips of stars top and bottom, I’ll frame the whole with another narrow border. At that point it will probably be time for some of the dozens of flying geese I already made for this quilt, back when it was going to be a strip quilt, not a medallion.

All of this reminds me of a post from three years ago, about something I overheard. It was short, so I will copy it here in its entirety: 

[Overheard] at the Chicago International Quilt Festival, one woman talking to another:

First woman, “I haven’t finished anything recently. Life got in the way.”

Second woman, “That’s the good news!”

Often I hear of “life” as an interruption to some other pursuit, like quilting, writing, or keeping up with television programs. It often connotes that something bad has happened, requiring our time, energy, and attention. It could be that a relative needs care, or we’ve been ill, or the college bills demand finding a second job.

But those aren’t interruptions, are they? Aren’t those the things we’re here for, taking care of others and ourselves? We are connected. Our relationships are (or should be) primary. That, of course, includes the relationship with ourselves. And the leisure pursuits are the luxury. To put it another way, the relationships are the sustenance. The hobbies are the dessert.

So the good news is that life gets in the way sometimes, that we have enough to sustain us that we can enjoy the treat when it’s available.

Retreat Report

After showing my prep work for last weekend’s retreat (here and here,) I thought I should also share a follow-up about it.

The retreat was scheduled for Friday, Saturday, and most of Sunday. During the week prior to the retreat I had a mild cold, and on the night before it was to begin, we had a forecast for several inches of snow. Between the two conditions, I decided to stay home on Friday and join the other quilters on Saturday. Even so, I sewed most of the day Friday, except when I was napping.

This morning I finished applying borders to this strip quilt for the local VA (Veterans’ Administration) hospital. It measures about 39″ x 59″.

Saturday I started fresh. After checking in at the retreat center and setting up my machine and stuff, I got to work sewing this baby quilt top. I had a little bit of cutting to do, but most of it was ready to go. It is about 38″ square.

And on Sunday I made blocks for a third quilt. They are all sewn but not pressed, so I’ll share them another day.

Since I usually work by myself, and often without teevee or music going, it was very different to have friends around me. I enjoyed listening to their conversations and getting to know some of them better. I think my sewing efficiency was better in some ways and worse in others. Certainly I got a lot done in the time, and I’m pleased with that.

Next steps are to press the other blocks I made and assemble them into a top. Then prep backs and batting for all three and get them quilted. With a lot of other things on my plate, I won’t guess how soon that will happen.


Prepping for Retreat 2

Man, time flies, doesn’t it? Between working on other projects and catching a cold, it’s been several days since I’ve even thought about my retreat. But considering I need to leave here early Friday (less than 48 hours!) I better get on the ball.

I have my first project prepped to make a quilt for the VA hospital. While I pulled fabrics for that, I also dug through my parts drawer. Most of the stuff in there is lengths of binding that weren’t used, but there are a few other odds and ends, including orphan blocks.

I’ve never counted orphan blocks as UFOs. That’s because in my life, they’re just random blocks, not neglected projects. And I don’t have very many, but there are a few. One of them is the terribly cute economy block I made for my world-famous tutorial. (Yep! Google “economy block” and see. Between my original blog post and the pinterest links to it, that post has two of the top four listings.)

As cute as it is, I don’t make a lot of cute quilts, and I haven’t found use for it. Until now. What the heck, right? It’s the perfect center for either a stillborn’s quilt or a small child’s quilt. My guild donates both sizes through our university hospital. Or if I love it too much, it might be for the new baby of a family friend. And while I don’t have a lot of those sweet colors left in my stash, there is enough to cobble together something I’ll be pleased to give.

Here is the beginning of it on the design wall, pieces cut but not sewn together.

So imagine big half-square triangles in pink and yellow all around, and then a double layer checkerboard in pinks, yellows, and blue. And then probably that more vibrant pink gingham for the last border.

One thing I enjoyed while cutting these pieces is completely finishing a few of these fabrics, aside from small scraps. That amazing stripe? That’s all there is of it. And the dainty but whimsical floral on yellow background? Gone. I’ve loved having them and using them, but as mentioned, I don’t make many quilts in pastels and twee prints. It won’t hurt to use them up.

Besides prepping projects, there is packing to do. Here is our list of suggested items:
* Name tag
* Sewing machine, power cord, foot pedal, attachments
* Machine needles
* Fabric and patterns for your projects
* Rotary cutter/scissors
* Seam ripper (just in case)
* Rulers (Please label these since they all look alike.  Address labels work well for this.)
* Marking pencils/pens
* Thread
* Tape measure
* Pins
* Lamp (optional)
* Lint roller for Sunday cleanup
* Something to drink (no alcohol) water, coffee and tea are always provided
* Snack to share (optional)
* Comfortable clothes—layers are probably best
* Pajamas
* Toiletries
* Your own pillow (optional) one is provided
* Sewing chair (optional)

Seems like they left off the calculator… I’ll also take my iron and a two-sided ironing/cutting board. And since we have a forecast for several inches more snow, and our work space is in a different building than the bedrooms, I’ll take sneakers for inside and boots for outside.

It looks like a lot, but aside from the chair, all of it is pretty compact.

Other than chocolate, I am missing anything from this list? 



Is This Improv?

As I work on another project, I’m mulling over the meaning other quilters give to the idea of “improv.” This is a long post, so thank you in advance if you choose to read.

Improvisation often implies just winging it, or spontaneously reacting. However, great improvisational speakers are prepared, understanding their topics and practiced in persuasion. Great jazz improvisers have tremendous musical training and preparation. They may not plan their improvs, but they aren’t just “winging it.” The inspired creativity of extemporizing is built on the rest of the written piece. It generally has structure and form, following loose rules not obvious to the untrained listener.

A post on Disc Makers Blog quotes an interview with legendary jazz pianist McCoy Tyner. Tyner said that he doesn’t practice for improvisation, but what he does is to compose a lot. To him, improv and writing music are the same in many ways, but improv is composition on the spot, in real time.

In quilting, this would be as if designing a quilt and “improv” quilting are the same, except that improv is a faster process. I’m not sure that’s how I see it, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

Quilters often take a different view altogether. Somehow “improv” has come to be seen as a style. Think Gee’s Bend. Or think of a number of different books on quilting improv. As I look at the covers in Amazon, they all feature quilts with seams that aren’t straight, points that don’t match, non-standard blocks or traditional blocks that are done in a wonky style.

To check on my impression of this, I googled “what is improvised quilting”. One of the first posts is the gallery of photos from the Modern Quilt Guild. All the photos on the first two gallery pages are styled with the characteristics I mentioned above.

One improv quilter, Cheryl Arkison, wrote about “What Really Counts As Improv Quilting?” :

… taking a traditional pattern and making it without measuring pieces or worrying about perfect points. This often makes it wonky.
… sewing together random bits of fabric to become bigger pieces of fabric. These can be used on their own or as part of something else.
… taking a certain cut of fabric and sewing it to another with no preplanning about what goes next to what. Free form piecing.
… changing course midway – once, twice, or thrice (or more) – because you can.
… an attitude that allows you to not freak out when something goes wrong or off track while piecing a quilt top.
… being open to the direction your quilt takes or being okay with scrapping it when you hate it.
… as much about the process as the product.

I would argue that the first three points above have much more to do with style than with improv. To me, improv is NOT a style or a quality of work, but a process, akin to improvisational theatre and music. It is a process about paying attention, making decisions based on what’s already happened, and choosing next steps based on resources available. It isn’t about randomness. I do like her point that it is an attitude that allows you to not freak out. 🙂

Arkison ultimately emphasizes process, too. “Improv is an approach, a technique that starts with simply starting. You begin without knowing what the end product will look like. You are improvising the design as you go.”

The article mentioned above in Disc Makers Blog has “11 Improvisation Tips to Help You Make Music in the Moment.” The tips begin with “Believe that you can improvise.” Also recommended is learning music theory; I would say this is similar to learning quilt design theory — it isn’t necessary to improvise successfully, but it does give you more to go on. Other tips include:

  • Try reacting to what’s around you
  • Embrace the accident
  • Don’t judge yourself in the moment (but review after the fact)
  • Say something — let your listener connect to the music by telling a story with it
  • Keep learning

All that said, how about this piece? I started to tell you about it in my recent post A Lot of Fun Stuff Going On. Here is the current status (and I will probably add more borders):

The photo is slightly off square, but the piece is on the money. 🙂

If you look at this through the eyes of the Modern Quilt Guild, I expect this would not be considered improvisational. But they don’t know about my process, do they? They don’t know that this started as a strip quilt, not a medallion quilt. They don’t know that the house was my design, and that it looked empty and lonely by itself, so I decided to add mullions on the windows and moulding on the door, and a tree. Or that the tree continued to grow without a plan, as trees do. They don’t know that the bird once lived in an anthology of children’s stories and poetry.

They don’t know that my process included choosing teal to frame the house, because teal would repeat the color of the door and feed well into the other fabrics I already chose. Or that I began with scraps of border stripe in a variety of lengths, none more than a few inches long, and found to my surprise that with careful piecing I had enough to miter them into the corners. Surely that is improvisation!

They don’t know that the next two fabrics were chosen after audition, or that their widths were determined based on what came before, what the fabrics themselves offered, and the potential for what will come next. They don’t know that this is another pink and brown quilt, because it is NOT! Because of improvisation.

And what will come next? I don’t know!! I still have 112 flying geese made for my strip quilt, and it’s possible that about half of them might fly around the edge. Or maybe not. My process allows me to make that decision when I am ready to make that decision.

You don’t have to give up rulers and measurement and high-quality construction to make improv quilts. Your points can all be perfect, or not. To me, the real process of improvisation in quilting is that of making one decision at a time, and being open to the notion that any decision you make might be wrong, and call for a change. It is not a style, it is a process I’ve also called Design-As-You-Go. It is what I teach in my Medallion Improv class. It is how I prefer to work, even though I often switch to design software to choose my later borders. That too is part of an improv process, because I leave open the possibility (which often happens) that I will not like what I designed with software, and I try again without freaking out.

In fact, I believe medallion quilts are uniquely perfect for improvisation. Because you make one border at a time, you can make one decision at a time.

Off my soap box now. Thanks for reading, if you’ve gotten this far. What do you think about improvisation? Do you improvise in quilting or other parts of your life? (We’re really all just makin’ it up as we go, aren’t we?) 🙂