Tag Archives: Experiment

It’s Time to PLAY!

People who know me know I tend to be very serious. Though I laugh easily and often, I seem to hold all the characteristics of a “Serious Person” except the first one below:

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(Of course, I may be flattering myself with this description, too.)

My personality also runs through my approach to quilting. I am pretty intentional in my art, and when a piece is done, I analyze what worked and what didn’t. Intention and analysis have helped me become a better quilter.

For more than two years, that intention and process have led me to study design principles, considering especially how they apply to medallion quilts. I’ve also developed strong understanding of construction techniques, since medallions do have some quirks that can create challenges.

And for the last two years, I’ve been guided by my “word of the year,” EXPERIMENT! For me, that has meant that in quilting and other parts of my life, I would try things without expectations about the outcome. My intention to experiment has been a success, leading me to do things I might not have tried otherwise. Some of my adventures? Submitting items for publication, trying new uses of space and color and pattern in my quilts, hiking at 11,000 feet, snowshoeing, traveling to Cuba and blogging on it.

But you can see, can’t you, how deliberate this has been also? I wouldn’t give up any of these experiences. But now it’s time to try a different approach. It’s time to PLAY.

“Play” might sound the same as “experiment.” Both are means of learning that require openness and flexibility. But experimenting is methodical, and typically takes a process from beginning to end, including appropriate analysis. Playing is not necessarily methodical and it doesn’t require completion to end. How many messes have you seen in living rooms and playrooms and classrooms, as children abandon their play to do something else? Playing is no less important than experimenting, but it is approached less seriously.

In 2016, I will try to guide my quilting and other parts of my life with PLAY. I will try to take a light-hearted and compassionate approach, for my quilts, my relationships, and myself. I want to be unafraid of abandoning things that don’t interest me. I want to learn to tell stories in a playful way. I want to read with more pleasure and less feeling of obligation. I’ll try to see and hear with a beginner’s mind, open to new ideas and new ways of doing things.

Yes, it’s time to PLAY. Would you like to play with me?




Focus | Progress

My list of priorities has changed, as has my progress through them.

1) Make a Christmas stocking for Son, since he will be alone for Christmas.
2) Make 7 bed pillowcases for the grandkids.
3) Get the Ricky Tims kaleidoscope I started a few days ago at least to finished top.
4) Get this blog cleaned up and updated.
5) Make bed-sized disappearing 9-patch as graduation present.

The Christmas stocking is DONE and ready for Santa to fill and the mail carrier to deliver! In a day or two I’ll show you how I make them.

The pillowcases are X-ed off the list due to issues with family communications and my grumpy mood about the result. I did buy a whole lot of novelty fabric for them, so I’ll have to figure out how to use it.

The kaleidoscope is coming along. I have one quadrant assembled, and I’ve chosen a first border. The kaleidoscope process makes a 36″ 12-pointed star. I haven’t decided whether to use that as the center of a bed-sized quilt or to simply frame it and finish it at about 50″. I still consider the project an experiment, and I may well make a second one just to try a few things differently.

Blog? No progress on blog clean-up… It always drops to lowest priority.

And what about the disappearing 9-patch? It’s on the list for December as we might see the graduation girl in January. I’d rather give a gift in person, if possible, so I decided to fast-track that project. My creative brain took over in the aftermath of the pillowcase upset.  One piece I bought was two yards of black print with brights. I decided to mix that with a couple of stash remnants from long ago, things I loved but hadn’t found a way to use. The two yards gives me enough to cut squares, make binding, and … TA-DA! make a matching pillowcase. At any rate, I’ve cut all the squares for it. When I’m ready, time-wise, to start stitching, it will go very fast.

Always plenty to do! What are YOU working on? 



With the end of the year rushing at us, including the joys and stresses of holidays, I need to prioritize my tasks. One technique for focusing attention and energy is to identify a small number of things and work just on those.

Of course there are SO MANY THINGS TO DO!! But in the quilty or sewing realm, I can manage the number. Here is my list as of right now:
1) Make a Christmas stocking for Son, since he will be alone for Christmas.
2) Make 7 bed pillowcases for the grandkids.
3) Get the Ricky Tims kaleidoscope I started a few days ago at least to finished top.
4) Get this blog cleaned up and updated.

I have a plan for the stocking. I’m shopping today for pillowcase fabric. The kaleidoscope top is coming along. I have most of the cutting done, but I haven’t started assembly.

Are you familiar with the process Tims uses for these? (See the link above for google images of some.) The kaleidoscope is a 12-pointed star. He uses a freezer paper template of the wedge size for each point, and farther breaks it down into segments. Each segment then is used to cut shapes from matching strip sets. It allows an enormous level of intricacy for a fairly simple process.

Of course I am still in cutting, not assembly. So we’ll see how “fairly simple” it turns out to be!

Here is a shot of my first two (of six) segments. Below it you can see five but without color adjustments done to the photo yet.


If nothing else, it’s an interesting experiment.

VA Hospital Quilts

At the beginning of the year I committed to making at least four quilts for donation through my local quilt guild. I especially wanted to make some for the local Veterans’ Administration hospital.

They have requested quilts that are approximately 48″ x 60″, which is a good size for a lap quilt. (Your local hospital may have different needs. If you want to make quilts to serve them, please check with yours directly.)

Recently I finished two quilts to donate. Both were completely made from stash. The first uses a very simple arrangement of 6″ 4-patches and half-square triangles. That part of the array is 48″ square. To make it longer, I added the unpieced borders on two edges.

The second uses a disappearing 9-patch block. Have you ever made one of these quilts? The usual idea is to make a BIG 9-patch, and then cut it into four equal square blocks. Each quarter has an original corner patch, as well as a portion of the original center patch.

I modified that idea by elongating the 9-patch. I cut patches as follows:
4 Corners: 6″ x 8″
1 Center: 6″ x 6″
2 Left/Right Centers: 6″ x 6″
2 Up/Down Centers: 6″ x 8″

Assemble the 9 patches into a 9-patch block. (!!) Cut it through the center in both directions to make 4 equal blocks. Each block will finish at 8″ x 10″.

I made NINE 9-patches. When each was cut into 4 pieces, I had 36 blocks. These were arrayed in a 6×6 layout to make a quilt that measure 48″ x 60″.

I used red for the center patches of the 9-patches, which gave them punch as the accent color. I used black prints for the corner patches, and gold prints for the L/R and U/D patches. The binding is from scraps of red binding I had leftover.

I like this quilt a lot. It was very easy to make and fun to arrange.

I’ll be pleased to donate these at my next guild meeting. With these and three others I’ve donated this year, I’ve met my goal.

Climbing The Mountain

I finished climbing The Mountain.


The Mountain. 60″ square. November 2015. Made from stash. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

When I posted a photo of the top, I said that, aside from taking three different tries at the center block, it went together very quickly. One reason for that was I had already defined the border widths. When designing a medallion, there are infinite choices for border widths. Each possibility leads to other design decisions, including block size and the next border width. Because I was using a familiar blueprint, those decisions were minimized.

Two other decisions were made as I chose fabrics. First, I chose to use large patterns, and lots of them. Second, I chose to do minimal piecing. After all, if you use large prints and cut them into little pieces, you lose the impact of the print.

Working with constraints such as size simplifies some things, but it also forces a different kind of creativity than when there are more options. For example, having decided that the center block would be 15″, I needed to choose a design that would translate well to that size. A 9-patch format works easily; using a 5-grid (5×5 format) works, too. But a 7-grid, like a bear’s paw block, is harder to use. Deciding to use all large (or largish) prints meant figuring out how to use them effectively.

This quilt taught me more than you might guess. First, it showed me the power of large prints. When many of us started quilting, we learned that an effective combination of fabrics would include small prints, mid-sized prints, and large prints. (Back then we also were warned against using any solids, as they would read “flat.”) The combination, we were told, would provide sufficient contrast to keep the quilt interesting.

I often use small prints and tone-on-tones as the main type of fabric pattern in a quilt, but I’d never made one with all large prints. I wondered if mixing them would confuse the eye, but I found that didn’t have to happen. The key still is contrast. Using contrast in color and/or value separated the components sufficiently. While the outcome is a jumble, it is an organized jumble. The prints didn’t all mush into a big blob.

The importance of value contrast was reinforced to me, as mentioned above. One thing I like especially is the pairing of the lighter, peachier batik near the center with the darker, bronze batik in the outside half-square triangles. Both serve the same purpose in piecing, but using the darker triangles farther out emphasizes the last border and gives the eye a place to stop.

Value also plays its part in the three borders with light backgrounds. Nearest the center, you see the “sticks” split with red. (I really did split the sticks and insert the red, maintaining the positions of the lines.) The order is reversed two borders farther out, with the red split by arrows with light background. And the next border is a white-with-navy stripe, adding brightness to a quilt that could have bogged down in dreariness. All three of those borders give strong, graphic light/dark contrast, repeating the black with almost-white in the very center.

The third lesson was in piecing. My intention was to use minimal piecing for this quilt, regardless of the fabrics. Over time I’ve found that my tendency has been to increase complexity in my borders. At the same time, I know beautiful medallions can be made with little to no piecing within borders. So it was time to push back and simplify some. The big prints gave an even better excuse to do that.

I’ve been asked why I call this quilt “The Mountain.” It does not have pictures or representations of mountains on it. There are no wild animals, towering pines, or anything else. I am not sure why the name came to me, other than that I have been climbing and climbing, mentally and physically and emotionally and artistically, and now I feel like I’m finally getting somewhere, though of course I’ll never reach the peak.

I think these words of advice from Carina Devera are helpful when facing any mountain:

How to climb a mountain:
1. Don’t forget to pack your courage.
2. Do not presume a mountain can be climbed all at once; one step at a time is all you will be granted.
3. Faced with such permanence, take comfort in all that is fleeting, and dare not disturb the rocks.

I found her essay at On Being, one of my favorite sites. She concludes with “The mountain had taught me how to persist beyond all hope or expectation — a humbling lesson I will not forget.”

There are lessons to learn from all the quilts we make, all the relationships we strengthen or break, all the physical challenges we face. My mountain teaches me to have patience and perseverance, and to stop on my way to catch my breath, to appreciate my traveling companions, and to marvel at my surroundings.