Tag Archives: Challenge and opportunity

Six-Pointed Star Is Off The Frame

Last week I looked at some very old posts from this blog. One noted a handful of UFOs, including the 6-pointed star. I needed to set the points in background and then figure out what else to do. That was more than four years ago, and already it was a challenging puzzle.

Besides the design puzzle, it also provided some good quilting puzzles. First up, the batting. I decided to quilt it with wool batting. I have two new batts in the closet, both large enough for this project. However, I also had largish chunks of remnants. I wondered if there was enough to use for a quilt finishing at about 80″ square. After pulling it all out of the closet and draping it across the floor, it was easy to see there was plenty. They were all the same brand, Hobbs. However, I found that each batting was substantially different. Some was thick, dense, and spongy. Some was thin and with little resiliency. Some varied in thickness and density from one side of the batting to the other. (The new batts in the closet are a different brand. I’m hoping for better consistency.)

The quilt center is large enough, with the large background setting, that I decided to use a double layer of batting to set it off. That gave another challenge — how to use those remnants to show the center off, and also have fairly consistent loft and density through the rest of it.

Big question: should I stitch all the batting pieces together before starting to quilt? Big answer: NO! It seemed like stitching would crush the edges. Instead I saved the piece I wanted for the center, and other than that, simply kept sliding in more pieces as I went. It was a pretty improvisational method, but it worked. You can see by the translucency in the photo below that there is no batting behind most of the quilt top at that point.

For most of my quilts I wouldn’t have the patience or see the need for “custom” quilting. Instead I use some kind of edge-to-edge design, such as loops and leaves, or spirals, or all-over feathering. This one, again because of the large center star and setting, seemed to call for more special treatment. I used a combination of free-motion quilting and ruler work on this quilt. In the photo above you can see I used blue painters’ tape to remind myself of where I wanted to put feathering. The tape is easy to use and move and move again with no damage to the fabric.

Here are a couple more photos of quilting in process.

I did long feathering on the outer borders, and ruler work on the inner border of 4-patches on point. It was easy to do the “top” and “bottom” borders with continuous movement, because they run parallel to the frame. Doing the side borders was more challenging. There are two choices: 1) do the side border quilting in small sections, as I advance the quilt on the frame; or 2) take the quilt off the frame, turn it 90°, making the side borders now at the “top” and “bottom.” I did the second.

Choosing the second method is easier in some ways and harder in others. For example, it requires big-stitch basting through all the areas to be quilted after turning. The basting stabilizes and secures the layers, so they don’t shift and pleat with turning.

When I got through the first time, I turned it and started again at the top.

The quilt isn’t finished, as I don’t have binding on it yet. But here it is, quilting finished and off the frame. The first photo shows some of the detail, while the second gives the big picture. You can see in both of them that the wool, especially in the center, gives a lot of stitch definition and texture.

I’ll finish with binding some day soon. And I need a name for it. (Any ideas?) Before that, though, I’m working on my class sample. I’ll show you progress on that soon.


Spinning Star

Some projects turn out roughly the way one expects, and others? Not so much. My Spinning Star is one of those.

Earlier this year I was invited to facilitate a three-day workshop at an art center. I was honored! And excited! And I started planning a quilt project that could convey many lessons of medallion quilts, while allowing the students to create designs unique to their own tastes.

When I teach my Medallion Improv! class, I offer a common blueprint so the students can focus on some design principles and elements, but not all of them. With given sizes for the center block and border widths, for example, they don’t need to worry much about proportion.

For the three-day workshop, I planned to use a 16″ center block. Each student would bring their own to the first class day, to set the foundation for their own design. The first order of business in class would be to demonstrate setting that block on point. The on-point setting expands the center block both physically and visually. The 16″ space, with exactly sized setting corners, suddenly becomes 22 5/8″. It’s an efficient and dramatic way to increase the size of the project. (To see how to set a block on point, check this out.)

In order to provide an example for promotional materials, I got to work and made a 16″ block of my own. The setting triangles are slightly oversized to take the new center to 23″. Using oversized corners helps with two aspects. One, it doesn’t require perfection in placing those corners, making it an easier task. Two, it allows the quilter to trim the center to a size that is simpler to use. Using 23″ finished means I can add 2.5″ (finished) borders on each side, taking the top to 28″. That is an easy size to use.

You can see more information about how I started this in my post Medallion Process — A New Center Block for Class.

And then … the invitation was rescinded because the art center decided they needed a bigger name. (Yes, I am a bit disappointed by how that all went, but you don’t need to worry or comment on that. There are challenges and opportunities in how we deal with disappointments, too.) Immediately it was apparent that this project would not go roughly as I imagined.

At about the same time, I was working on the slide show for my guild’s quilt festival. You can find the video of A Quilt Is More Than A Blanket in this post. Though I was deep in the midst of making my red and white quilts, I realized that to show the process of making a quilt, I needed to take pix of a quilt in process! For various reasons, I didn’t think the red and white ones were good candidates for that. So onward and upward! The spinning star became a priority again.

Spinning Star. 50″ x 50″. Finished June 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

The center block is made with paper piecing. The first framing border (not setting triangles) is unpieced strips. The fabric of the border repeats the dark blue, red, and black that came earlier. It also adds some lighter chalky blue for value contrast and relief. The print is supposedly an Australian Aboriginal design. The border takes the center (everything in the center so far, including the border once added,) to 28″.

This really is an easy size to use, if one is making a pieced border of square blocks. You can divide 28″ a lot of different ways, including into 7 blocks at 4″, 8 blocks at 3.5″, 14 blocks at 2″, and so on.

My original plan for the workshop blueprint was to use 3.5″ half-square triangles. There are a lot of lessons to learn with HST, and there are fun ways to demonstrate them. (Here are a few ways to look at HST.) But once plans changed, and I wanted to increase the size more quickly in order to finish more quickly, I decided to use a wider border.

I looked for inspiration in a number of places and ultimately saw a round robin quilt in Instagram I liked. It had a middle border of light bars and darker bars, arranged in a staggered way. I think the proportions of the bars were different from mine, but the idea is the same. One advantage to this design is I could make it as wide as I wanted. (“Wide” means the dimension perpendicular to the edge of the center. The two lines in this symbol ⊥ are perpendicular to each other. “Length” is the dimension along the edge.) The width is 6″, taking the top to 40″.

Running the blue bars through the middle creates a stable line, and makes the V-pattern of the staggered darks a little more subtle.

I also knew I wanted the corner blocks to echo the center shapes. Using the same blue and red fabrics from the very center, as well as one of the orange fabrics, gives a direct repeat. And using the economy block gives a less direct repeat of the center with setting triangles. (For directions on making the economy block, see my most-viewed post ever.)

With the center then at 40″, I had another easy length to divide into square blocks. I chose a 5″ wide border, this time of the HST I didn’t use before. Well, sort of. My plan was to use HST, simply made from a solid orange and the same blue Aboriginal print from before. I made 8 of the 36 required blocks (8 on each side and 4 in the corners,) and they were awful. The orange was much too much, too orange, too much orange. (NOT articulate, huh? I wish I’d taken pictures to let you see exactly what I mean.)

I still liked the idea of using the HST to make Vs around the edge, but the orange wouldn’t work. I tried other ideas and other fabrics. I flipped the orange underneath to reveal less of it, and put that against another blue. Ah. Much better. However, the solid orange still didn’t work for me. Instead I cut strips of the squiggly orange stripe from the center setting triangles, and added pieces of the blue that looks like it has finger-painting smears on it. One benefit of this is I could still use all the blue Aboriginal print I’d already cut!

The completed top is 50″ square. I quilted it very simply with a large double meander in a marigold-colored thread. (The double meander is done with one very large stipple or meander across the surface of the quilt, followed by another pass back, winding and ribboning through the first pass. It’s simple and fast and looks great on a lot of quilts.)

The binding is made from the African fabric used for the red and black stripes of the setting triangles. Though the red and black were fussy cut from it, the design also includes dark blue, so it was suitable across its pattern.

This quilt did not go roughly how I expected. It didn’t go much as planned at all. But I was pleased to use it for the video, and I like how it turned out. I think it will have a special owner some day, but right now I don’t know who that will be.


Red and White Quilts, Part 1

My quilts are done. I am ready for the quilt show. That’s good, because it begins today!

Our show will feature more than 200 quilts, exhibited in the beautiful First United Methodist Church of Iowa City. Small wall-hangings to large bed covers, quilts of every size and color will be a feast for the eyes. The most prominent color will be RED, with our special exhibit of red and white quilts.

I have six quilts entered in the show, including two red and white ones. Both of these quilts are new this year. In 2012 I made one other red and white quilt. Believe me when I say I doubt I will make another.

Here are the three quilts.

Fire & Ice
This quilt was inspired by a photo I found in the archives of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum. You can find out more about the inspiration and my process here and here. My quilting process is described here. This quilt will be part of the special red and white display.

Fire & Ice. Approx 68″ x 68″. Based on IQSC Object Number 1997.007.0797 from the International Quilt Study Center & Museum, a quilt from 1800-1820. May 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Hibiscus Mountain
The other red and white quilt I made this year was easier and more fun. In some ways that makes it more satisfying, and in some ways it makes me “like” it more. However, I will be happy to give this quilt to a loved one. I won’t be giving Fire & Ice away.

You can read about this quilt’s process here. The design is called “Delectable Mountains,” and it is an old design, too. In the US, quilts in this style have been made since the early 1800s. I’ve also seen pictures of a red and white Delectable Mountains quilt in the Welsh tradition.

Hibiscus Mountain. 73″ x 73″. Delectable Mountains format. Finished spring 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Hibiscus Mountain won’t technically be in the red and white display, because of the colors in the hibiscus print. However, we will have the “other” red and white quilts, such as this, grouped together adjacent to the display. I’m not sure the general viewer will discern them as different.

Circles of Love
My guild has an annual challenge, and in 2012 it was to create a red and white quilt, using only red and white. I entered this quilt, which uses a wedding ring block. While the block is traditional, I designed the setting. If you look at the “points” of the large center, you can see they are shaped as hearts, to emphasize the wedding or love theme.

When I finished the top on April 15 that year, I posted in Facebook about it: “I never cried on finishing a top before. This was not fun… I don’t like the rigidity in color format. Once a block was done, it was pretty, but every other block was just the same. So there was no joy in execution… 1521 pieces. More than any quilt I’ve made. Almost all of them were triangles…”

Circles of Love, also known as the hunger quilt. A friend “purchased” it from me, giving the price to a local food pantry. It’s about 70″ square. 2012. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

As now, I declared then I’d never make another red and white quilt. I could change my mind again, as I did this spring. The strong contrast, both of color and value, make red and white quilts exciting to see. However, I really don’t like using white. It gets grimy, and it shows varicose veins, the stray threads that are unavoidably trapped when quilting. Fire & Ice seemed to take forever to complete, with one character-building challenge after another. And the quilt show drama about the red and white issue took a lot of the fun out of completing it. Whatever. It fer sure won’t be any day soon that I’ll make another.

Still, I’m thrilled with how these turned out, and I’m proud to enter them in our show. And now, on to the next challenges and opportunities.

The Muslin Mock-Up

I’ve been working on lots of parts of my quilty life the last couple of weeks. The biggest project has been toward completing my Fire & Ice medallion quilt in red and white. In my last post I described my intended process for quilting it. That process included designing the stitching, , transferring the design to Golden Threads paper, and quilting a muslin mock-up. It’s DONE! I think the design is very pretty and I hope it translates well to the pieced top.

I was inspired by traditional Welsh quilting designs, as well as Gaelic/Celtic motifs. These photos give a sense of the design. Lighting is everything, isn’t it? :/

And these should give some idea of the process. Jim was a big help in thinking through drawing and transferring the design. First we spread the quilt top on the table and covered it with plexiglass. Jim put a clamp on either end so the plexi wouldn’t slide while we worked with it. We experimented with different markers and methods of drawing arcs. You can see the outer border in these two pix.

Once I was happy with the designs for the borders (outside border above, corner blocks, and the hourglass border,) we removed the quilt top and placed a piece of batting under the plexiglass. The batting was simply to put a light background under the plexi so the blue lines would show. Then I traced the designs onto the Golden Threads paper.

I cut more pieces of paper to stack with the traced ones, and I stapled each stack together. The staples keep the pieces of paper from shifting.

Each stapled stack of paper had the pencil tracing on top. I used a basting stitch and no thread in the longarm to punch the design through the whole stack. I made enough to do both the practice quilt and the real thing. One thing I found was that pinning the papers to the quilt made the paper warp and pucker. After a couple of times like that, I simply stabbed long pins through, clear up to their heads. There were enough of them to keep the paper from moving much, and the paper stayed flatter to the fabric.

The next two pictures show the muslin on the frame, after quilting the first border and also after removing the paper. In truth, it took as long to remove the paper as to quilt it. The paper tears away pretty easily, but of course you have to be careful not to stress the stitches too much. Also it comes off in big pieces and tiny shreds. I brought a vacuum cleaner in with hose attachment, and cleaned up the little bits with that. (I also vacuumed everything in the room once I was done, as I’m sure lots got away.)

You can see by the picture above that the quilted lines are not smooth and crisp as they are in the blue marker drawing. I chose to do the spirals as roses, so that was intentional. As for the rest, the longarm is large and heavy and hard to maneuver smoothly. I am not experienced with rulers, so wasn’t able to perfect them that way. While I wasn’t thrilled with the look at first, I quickly decided to embrace the wobbliness. As long as it covers the quilt evenly, it doesn’t look like a mistake. 🙂

Next to do on this project is to load the real deal, change the needle, change the thread to white, and get started quilting. The actual quilting time is not huge, so I hope to have it quilted by the end of the week.


The Perfect Set-Up

Remember the fun we have as the year turns, defining our resolutions or choosing a word of the year? For the last few years I’ve tried the “word” game. When it’s working well, I have my word in mind often, and consider how to move my life more in line with the word’s intended values.

This year, I’ll admit, I haven’t thought much about my word. Actually, it’s two three words, “challenge and opportunity.” My intention is to see barriers or obstacles — and problems! — as chances for creativity and growth, and to face opportunities bravely, even when they are hard. But while I haven’t thought much about it, I’ve been living it. My quilty world has been rife with opportunities for growth, for re-engagement with my guild, for creativity in my quilting, and for cultivating speaking and teaching gigs.

One personal challenge I set was to create a special red and white quilt for my guild’s upcoming quilt show. I’ve shown you the unquilted top already.

Creating the top presented challenges of its own, including interpreting the original quilt in a way that would honor it, learning to paper piece those triangle borders, and appliquéing various parts of the motif.

Originally I planned to have it quilted professionally. For various reasons, including encouragement from my brother, I decided to do it myself. As you can see, it is a challenge and an opportunity! 

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been working on a plan, including both design and implementation. For the stitching design, I’m inspired by Welsh hand-quilting motifs. My draft includes double arches and spirals, among other traditional elements.

Implementation is multi-steps. To start, I’m drafting the design with markers on plexiglass sheets, overlaid on the quilt top. I’ll transfer the design to a product called “Golden Threads” paper, a specialty tissue paper intended for quilting right through, and tearing away. If this works, it will allow me to avoid marking on the quilt top itself. I’d rather not, as I don’t want marking to stain the white fabric.

I’ll test the Golden Threads paper with a first go, which will also allow me to practice the shapes. I have a muslin whole-cloth top the same size as the red and white top. It won’t have the same effect without the piecing, but I’ll be able to tell whether the whole plan will work or not.

The muslin backing is loaded on the longarm frame, and I have batting the right size, as well as the top. Within a few days I’ll start quilting it. I’ll do the borders at each end (top and bottom,) and stabilize it through the middle with basting. Then I’ll take the whole thing off the frame and turn it 90°, reload it, quilt the other borders, and quilt the middle. IF it all works okay (learning as I go, I’m sure,) I’ll use the same process on the real deal.

Wow. This is the perfect set-up for challenge and opportunity. Wish me luck.