Tag Archives: Design

A New Plan for an Old UFO, Part 2

Where I left you last time was having solved the problem of setting the star points into background fabric without using Y-seams. I also showed you an idea for a quilt design using log cabin blocks. It’s pretty, but I really have no interest in making it.

This is where it is so far. At this point it finishes at 54″ square. 

The question is, what to do next? Often I begin a quilt with a center and two or three borders, designed in my mind and with scratch paper, and made directly. When it’s time to add more borders, I often switch to EQ7 for design help. It gives the advantage of trying out ideas without making them. With unlimited iterations possible at virtually no cost, there is not much downside. I did the same for this one.

Here are a couple of options, drawn in EQ7.

Original design in EQ7, 82″ square.

Original design in EQ7, 93″ square.

I like them both, but I have a pretty good idea which direction I’ll go with it.

A New Plan for an Old UFO

I’ve often boasted about not having many UFOs (UnFinished Objects, or quilt projects that haven’t been completed.) Why that would be something to brag about, I’m not sure. But it’s true, usually I finish what I start.

There is one long-time UFO, started several years ago.

There were multiple reasons for not proceeding with this. One issue was technical — I wasn’t sure how to do the Y-seams to set the points in a background. (Above they are not sewn together, just arrayed on batting to show them.) Another was that, once set, I didn’t have a good idea of how to show them off.

Almost four years ago I posted More of an Idea than a Plan. In it I showed one option for setting these star points.

I didn’t do this. I still like the idea, but I’m really not interested in making those log cabin blocks. Also, it turns out that the center resulting from the star points is bigger than I thought. Adding all those log cabin borders would make this a fairly humongous quilt. If that weren’t enough, I still didn’t know how to set the star points in background fabric.


Recently I got the star points out again. It turns out you can avoid using Y-seams if you extend the points with background fabric. The blue lines below illustrate the extra seams. The star block has six big segments, each consisting of a star point and two pieces of background fabric. Put together two star halves, and then stitch the long seam to create the whole block. Easy peasy.

The constraint I faced was not having quite enough background fabric. If you look again at the block above, you can see that the star itself is not the same width as height. The star points do not extend all the way to the sides. To make the block square, it requires “enough” background fabric to make the height and width equal. I didn’t have quite enough.

That gave me the next opportunity for problem solving. The easiest two ways to make a center square are to 1) trim it to square or 2) add borders to make it square. I had nowhere to trim; adding borders of different widths was the best choice.

The photo below shows my solution. To all four sides, I added borders of floral print on cream background. The top/bottom borders are narrower than the left/right borders.

The one-inch strip border in coral encloses all that and creates the illusion of uniformity. At least, for me it helps make the width differences disappear. That strip takes the center to 42″ finished.

The final border so far uses 4-patches on point for the edges, and broken dishes in the corners. I’ve talked before about using “easy” widths for borders, to make them divide into square blocks. This works even with blocks on point. With an edge of 42″, I divided it into 7 equal segments to have a 6″ border. 42″/7 = 6″.  Then I used the math of diagonals to find the correct block size. 6″/1.414 = 4.25″. Each of the 4-patches is a 4.25″ block. When set on point, they make a 6″ wide border.

It isn’t magic, and it isn’t mysterious. It’s just math. If I didn’t know all that and still wanted to use blocks on point, I could have made them any size and simply had them not fit perfectly. AND THAT IS OKAY!! And TRADITIONAL!!

Alrighty. This post is too long already. I’ll finish it soon with showing you a couple of options for the remainder of the quilt layout.

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.

What’s the Worst that Would Happen …?

[Note: I published this long ago, in the early days of this blog. Recently I read a post by Kathy Loomis on fear and art, wondering if we focus on the fear too much, teaching fear rather than boldness. That may be so. But the most important thing to learn about fear in art and in most making is, there is really nothing to be afraid of. In that context, I post this again.]

A friend recently posted on Facebook, “Usually I’m a pretty good cook… today was not one of those days. Man did I mess breakfast up. Oh well, the dogs liked it.”

I said, “If you ask yourself ‘what’s the worst that would happen if…’ and the answer is that the dogs will get to eat it, you might as well try it!”

There’s a lot of stuff I don’t try in my quilting. Sometimes I actually don’t have interest in a technique or style. Sometimes I do but feel a little (or a lot) intimidated. While I definitely have favorite styles and colors, I want to push my creativity by being open to failure. I want to, but honestly sometimes I have trouble doing so.

There are many sports metaphors about risk and winning – Wayne Gretzky’s famous quote is “You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” However, we don’t always apply the same thinking to our art. In reading about creativity, I understand that we don’t take risks because we fear failure. Really, failure or success is determined by setting some standard to reach, and then measuring whether or not we reached it. The worst part is, we set our own standards in quilting, and usually we set them too high. We hesitate to try new things because we fear we won’t do them as well as our heroes, or as well as the best thing we ourselves ever did, or because we are worried about others’ opinions.

Another facet of “failure” for me is I am a finisher. If I try something, I want the results to be “good enough” to finish the project. (Others might have an odd fear of success with the same result — those who don’t finish projects may not wish the obligation that comes with a successful experiment!)

Could we measure success as having been bold enough to try something new, and having learned something from it? Then every project we undertake could be a success. And every experiment would be its own finish, with or without a completed project.

Another friend, an actor, talked to me recently about stage fright. A particularly bad commercial shoot several years ago led to lingering anxiety about how each “next shoot” would go. But the stage fright makes him angry and he refuses to succumb to it, becoming stronger all the time in overcoming it. He says, “Perhaps we are too ‘full of ourselves’ and think that we should be ‘perfect’…and when we are not, we just can’t handle the thought….”

Stage fright, writer’s block, quilting fear, all part of the same structure. There is fear to try, to be judged a failure, if only by ourselves.

In Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird, she talks about the process of creation. As a writer, she’s well aware of the desire to create perfection each time we begin a new project.

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.

Or more bluntly from her, “In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.”

Shitty first drafts, practice blocks, even finished quilts we assess as failures, are the predecessors of better work. Go ahead and write that shitty first draft. Only when we begin something can we learn from it, improve on it, and be done with it, one way or another.

Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of bestselling Eat, Pray, Love, gave a TED talk about the elusive nature of creative genius. Genius, inspiration, the “muse,” when they show up at all, sometimes show up at inopportune times. Whether or not genius shows up, she says, keep at it, keep showing up. Do your job, whether or not genius does.

At the end of the talk she reiterates, “Don’t be afraid, don’t be daunted. Just do your job.

Sometimes it feels like we’re doing our job with little guidance, no clear path.

Anne Lamott again:

“E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

It’s okay to not know where you’re going, or how it will turn out. Don’t let fear stop you. Don’t be afraid. If the worst that would happen is the dogs eat the breakfast, the first draft is shitty, or the block goes into a pile of orphans, try it anyway.

What’s the worst that would happen?