Tag Archives: Original design

¡Fiesta!

This has been an oddly low-stress year, from the standpoint of deadlines. Other than Georgia’s graduation quilt, all my finishes have been on my own timeline. Even so, I’ve been pretty productive and have been learning and practicing new skills.

I have a lot of experiments and works in process, too, but here’s where we are so far with finishes for the year:
1. Fierce Little Bear
2. VA hospital quilt
3. VA hospital quilt
4. Charlotte’s Kitty
5. The Old School House
6. Georgia’s graduation quilt
7. Where Are the Birds? (landscape tree quilt)
8. ¡Fiesta!
9. Hands and Hearts
10. Shirt (YES! I made a shirt! See below for a tiny bit more info.)

Today I’m going to show you ¡Fiesta! It’s a quilt given to a friend who retired recently. And yes, that is Spanish punctuation with the inverted exclamation mark at the beginning of the word.

¡Fiesta! 62″ x 62″. Finished June 2018. Photo by Jim Ruebush

I started this quilt after visiting my sister Cathie at the end of March. Cathie was preparing for a gallery exhibit of her quilts, and in an extraordinary burst of energy and creativity, she made several smaller pieces in a few weeks. One captured my interest from its very simplicity. She had a pieced center, set on point and surrounded by a piano key border. That structure was set on point again.

Inspired, I chose an orphan block made in a workshop last year.  I liked the block, but not enough to make several more for a block quilt. I didn’t put it on point as Cathie arranged her center block, because I didn’t like the strong “cross” or “plus” impression it makes that way. I framed it with a line of red, and then strong corners to give an on-point look. Next came the same piano key border idea. The piano key patches are from my scrap drawer.

Since I was designing as I went, the next task was to choose something from my stash to create corners. To offset the relatively dark values in the piano keys, I chose a light/medium gold print. It includes red and white in the floral design, tying back to the colors already used. To return the center to an “X” arrangement instead of “+” I turned it a second time with the green.

But wowee, that’s a lotta green! And I didn’t want it to look like a baseball field. I’ve been experimenting with appliqué this year to ramp up my skills. This was the perfect occasion to add appliqué.

I tried different stitch styles and zigzag widths, as well as various types of thread, and methods for fusing. Though far from expertly done, it adds a little whimsy and breaks up those large fields of green.

The narrow outer border contributes more fun and repeats the striping provided by the piano keys. And as always, the binding, in red with musical instruments on it, gives the final border touch.

I quilted it with a light celery green. Actually, that was where the only tough going came on this project. I actually started quilting it with red. I got through one pass and knew I hated it. It was too strong, showed up too much. UGH. After removing the quilt from the frame, I “skinned” it, took a blade (Exacto style) and pulled the backing fabric away from the batting, and cut the threads. Though it was still a slow process, it was so much faster and easier than using a seam ripper to slice one thread at a time. After that was done and we got back from our Maryland jaunt, I put the parts back on the frame and started again. It was well worth the effort.

The quilt was a gift for Lisa, a friend Jim and I met when traveling to Cuba in 2015. ¡Fiesta! is a great name for it for three reasons. First, the feel is fun and festive, nothing very serious about it. Second, the strong, clear colors remind me of Fiestaware dishes. And third, being with Lisa is always like being at a party. She is just fun to be with. When Jim and I gave her the quilt, she told us she didn’t have any other quilts except a vintage, family one, so this is extra special for her. 🙂

***

Number 10 on the list above is a shirt. I’ll show you more after I have a photo. For now I’ll tell you, making clothing is not my thing. However, I had a purchased shirt I loved, and last year I used it as the model to make a similar top. That inspiration shirt is made of rayon, and recently it went through the wash and dryer. You may know, rayon feels luxurious, but it can shrink if machine dried. 😦 It’s all okay — I’ve worn it so much it was looking a bit shabby anyway. So I used the home-made shirt as a model for a new one. The new one has a V-neck (with facing!) and French seams. Go ahead, ask me how many times I’ve used French seams before. Yeah. NEVER. And it was splendid. I LOVE this new shirt, and it fits perfectly. And it is prewashed quilting cotton, not rayon, so should hold up to the occasional tumble through the dryer.

Advertisements

The Old School House

Some old buildings fascinate me. I love the lines of old train stations, small-town Carnegie libraries, and one-room school houses. For many years I’ve fantasized about turning a school building, of the style common in the Midwest and seen in television’s “Little House on the Prairie,” into a home.

There’s another style of school building more common in early New England, two stories with straight lines of brick or clapboards, and symmetrical windows. Buildings like these appear often in embroidery samplers from the early years of our country, worked by school girls expected to learn domestic arts, rather than academics. Here is a charming example from wikipedia:

These buildings hold a different romance for me, and I wanted to make one for myself. About mid-way through creating the top, I posted about it (and thoughts on the term “improv”) in this post.

And more about it here. In the photo below you see the center framed four times, through the dark red paisley. I could have maintained the square shape with the rest of the borders, but elongating the quilt would emphasize the tall, narrow shape of the school. To lengthen the shape, I added borders to top and bottom.

By mid-March I had the top finished, including a bit of additional embroidery. By the way, I loved doing the embroidery! It was free-style, improvisational all the way, with no hoop. There is more embroidery in my future, no doubt!

The finished quilt pleases me enormously.

The Old School House. 51″ x 64″. March 2018. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Though I had several dozen flying geese in double pinks, reds, browns, and teals, (after all, the quilt was supposed to be a strip quilt of geese, not a medallion quilt with a house,) I opted to simplify the colors by using only pinks and reds. Using a wide variety of fabrics for them makes them a bit more interesting.

With all the warm colors, I chose to repeat the cool colors with the teal triangles and the olive green narrow strip, as well as in the star points.

Notice how simple this construction is! The only obviously pieced borders are those with stars and with geese. The rest are plain strip borders. (The print second border, just outside the line of teal, is actually pieced in many places, as I eked out the length from scraps.) No one needs to be an expert to make something like this. They just need to know how to make things fit well enough to lie flat.

As with Fierce Little Bear, some of the detail is in the quilting, rather than in the piecing or format. I used white thread to create some airy detail in the sky, and green to draw more wispy leaves around the tree and to expand the globe of flowers on the right. The roof got lines in rust, and the window details were emphasized with the texture of pale golden tan thread, similar to the window backgrounds. I also quilted lines across the house in the manner of clapboards. Click on any picture to open the gallery for a closer look.

I’ve been enjoying my projects so far this year, both those finished and those still in process. I’ll keep sharing the finished ones as I get posts written, though in truth, I’ll probably skip writing about the VA hospital quilts.

Thanks for taking a look!

Finished in 2018:
1. Fierce Little Bear
2. VA hospital quilt
3. VA hospital quilt
4. Charlotte’s Kitty
5. The Old School House
6. Georgia’s graduation quilt
7. Where Are the Birds?
8. Fiesta!

Fierce Little Bear

The first quilt I completed this year named itself, as many do. It is called “Fierce Little Bear.” The bear in the name refers to the bear’s paw block that centers it. “Fierce” and “little” describe the owner of the quilt, my niece, a petite young woman who has faced tragedy and trial with grit.

I started the project last fall with a bear’s paw block, made with fussy-cut paws. In a post called Transformation, I showed you the beginning of it, including changing corner blocks to the dark blue you see below. 

I finished the top, posting a few photos on Instagram of the progress. By mid-November I was ready to load the layers for quilting. And by five days later, I took it off again because of tension issues. This photo of picked stitches gives a small sense of the trouble. I unpicked more stitches for this quilt than … any other since the last one I finished! (I’ll tell you about it soon.)

I’ve mentioned (many times, probably!) that I’m trying to learn how to tell stories better with quilts. There are many ways to do that, including the choice of fabrics, block style, and layout. Any words or pictures added through appliqué or other means can help tell a story. Another way to tell a story is with the quilting, which was a big part of my plan with this one.

Because I wanted the quilting to be special, and because my machine was having some erratic tension, as I continued to quilt, I checked the back every couple of minutes to be sure it was going okay. Now mind you, “checking the back of the quilt” while it’s on the frame usually means getting on the floor, scooting under the frame, craning the neck while holding a light up to the back, scanning across all the work done, burrowing back out from under the layers, and standing up again. All doable, but not always comfortable.

With holiday and project interruptions, I finished quilting and binding it early in January. At that point, the next step was delivery. My niece lives near enough to see in person but far enough that it requires a special plan.

And then! Then I saw that IQF had a call for entries to the Chicago show in the spring. One of their exhibits was Midwest Traditional quilts. Well, what could be more traditional than a medallion? So I entered it, putting off delivery of the quilt to my niece. It was not accepted — I think their idea of traditional was somewhat different from mine — but I’m glad I tried.

Finally at the very end of March, Jim and I took a short trip to see my niece Emily and her dad, who is my brother. I had three quilts with me and said I just thought she would enjoy seeing them in person, since mostly she sees my work on facebook. I showed one, then another. And then I had her open the third, Fierce Little Bear. Below is a gallery of photos of Emily examining it with her husband Adam. Click on any to open and embiggen.

Here is the quilt.

Fierce Little Bear. 67″ x 67″. Finished January 2018. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

The piecing design of this quilt, along with the fabrics, begins a story. The bear’s paw center is a traditional block design. Each of the “paws” is fussy-cut from fabric designed by Julie Paschkis. Here are two of them.

The combination of this fabric and the batik surrounding the center drove the color choices, including the emphases on cobalt blue, turquoise, and red. The Julie Paschkis prints also included black backgrounds, allowing use of black, also. This is a wildly unusual color combination. (And I will say, Jim and I took dozens of photos of this quilt, more than anything I’ve ever done, and in various set-ups for lighting. The colors simply do not show well together in photos, but they are quite beautiful in person. sigh…) 

The inner borders of turquoise and yellow create a faux-on-point setting, and also allow the illusion that the center block and its batik border float on top of the rest.

The middle borders are intentionally sharp and jagged, and have a subtle reference to Native American designs. And the outer border repeats the batik, tying it all together.

The quilting finishes the story. It reads from left to right as a whole picture framed by trees on either side, canopied in leaves and clouds. At the base is a field of flowers. Butterflies float next to the tree trunks. An owl hides in the tree on the left, while a squirrel is on the lower right. And a fish swims in an aqua pool. You truly can’t see the detail without close examination. Here are a few pictures to give you a taste of it.

This is a very long post and I am omitting so many pictures I’d like to include, but you have to stop somewhere. The last photo I’ll show will give you different information. It is a black and white image of the top, prior to quilting.

While I made this, I fretted a lot, hoping it would turn out well and suit my niece. She is strong and vibrant; she loves the outdoors; she is generous and kind; and she is unique. That’s what I wanted the quilt to be. Over and over I showed photos of progress to my brother, and he continually encouraged me, reassuring me that she would love it. But the colors, though beautiful, are no one’s idea of an expected combination. Finally, I looked at the top without color, in the black and white version above. And finally I was reassured that it worked. Exactly as I wanted.

What Makes It Interesting? Part 4

I’m going to wrap up my thoughts on what makes a quilt interesting, with some comments on how a quilt’s story contributes. To remind you, I’m specifically talking about quilts that might be used as a bed or lap quilt, and not art quilts or wall-hangings. Also, if you’d like to read more on this, see the first three parts of this here, here, and here. Take a look at comments, too, as they offer more to the discussion.

Let me clarify that these posts are about how a quilt (or other object) appears visually, and what characteristics lead one to spend more time looking at it. But when a story helps us appreciate the look, the story is significant, too.

Remember this?

This is a pillow I made for my son. With the buttons pulling at the placket, it looks like a shirt too small for its wearer. Not really an attractive look. Once you’ve noticed that it is a shirt repurposed as a pillow cover, there isn’t anything else to see. Not interesting, and no reason to keep looking at it.

I could have posted a photo of it with no explanation. Instead, I told you a story about my son and about the shirt. Based on the reactions in comments, it seems the pillow is more interesting than it appears at first glance.

Stories can be told about the object itself and why it is important, or about the process of making, or about the owner. They can be embedded within the object or thoroughly outside of it. Because quilting is a visual craft, we can use symbolism of color or shape, and we can include words and ideas, to convey meaning or story. Take a look at Kerry’s beautiful quilt she has basted and ready for hand-quilting. It is a sampler with quotations embroidered onto several of the blocks. At least part of the story in her quilt is apparent. And it is that story that will help keep the viewer looking, until their curiosity about the quotations and variety of blocks is satisfied.

Another example is a quilt I made for a family friend, for her high school graduation in 2007. Ten years ago I was an early quilter, and the fabrics I chose were more important, symbolically, than the design.

Whitney’s graduation quilt. Lap quilt sized. 2007.

Without close-ups, you might not be able to see the various prints. There are musical notes, in honor of her experiences in high school band, and smiley faces, to signify her multiple dental surgeries and teeth-bracing episodes. The flip flop sandals note her favorite footwear, and the narrow border is a long line of coffee cups, to celebrate her work at a local coffee shop. In the lower right corner is a “W” for her first name. And in the upper left corner is a plaid I created from strips of colorful fabric. The plaid is to commemorate her friendship with my son. (Plaid!) Unlike with Kerry’s quilt, this quilt’s story is best read by someone who knows the owner.

Another quilt, made in 2010 for another of Son’s friends, has a very long back story. What you see in this picture is the punchline. Notice that besides the soccer ball, there is a trumpet behind the word “PLAY.” In addition to the words and pictures, the pieced bands use Dan’s high school and university colors.

Dan’s college graduation quilt. This is actually the back of the quilt. 2010.

I still use fabrics to convey meaning. My recent quilt, Black Sheep Manor, includes a variety of prints that the owners may notice over time and attach meaning to. Besides the fabrics, I’ve also used piecing to add significance. For instance, in a note to the owners, I explained the “piano keys” border as books, tremendously important in their lives. The middle border of half-square triangles also was intended to have meaning to them that others would not find.

If you’re familiar with Antiques Roadshow, you know that an object’s provenance can be an important aspect of its monetary value. What you might not know is that provenance or story can add value to a wide range of objects, not just antiques.

Recently I read Austin Kleon‘s book Show Your Work. In the book’s Chapter 5 “Tell Good Stories,” Kleon briefly describes an experiment done on the monetary value a story can add to an object. The experiment is more fully described at BrainPickings, in an article called “Significant Objects: How Stories Confer Value Upon the Vacant.” According to the article, the researchers

… would purchase cheap trinkets, ask some of today’s most exciting creative writers to invent stories about them, then post the stories and the objects on eBay to see whether the invented story enhanced the value of the object. Which it did: The tchotchkes, originally purchased for a total of $128.74, sold for a whopping total of $3,612.51 — a 2,700% markup.

Having a story made the objects more interesting, thus increased the value to buyers. The results were summarized as follows:

“It turns out that once you start increasing the emotional energy of inanimate objects, an unpredictable chain reaction is set off.

I encourage you to read the whole article at BrainPickings.

Our quilts carry stories with them. Some stories are only obvious to the makers, as described in my post Transforming the Past| Transforming the Future. Some are obvious also to the intended owners. I believe we honor the tradition of quilting when we are aware of this, and let our quilts tell stories. I believe we can find the process of making more meaningful when we incorporate stories, as well.

Do your quilts tell stories? Are the stories mainly for your own benefit, or ones that anyone can see, or specific only to the owner? Do you have any other follow-up thoughts about making quilts that are interesting for the viewer? 

What Makes It Interesting? Part 3

In my last post I talked a bit about why color draws us to appreciate some quilts more than others. Besides color, per se, unexpected color combinations might be more important in finding a quilt interesting.

Two other factors that might make a quilt interesting are the combination of fabrics and any story about the quilt’s design, the making of it, or the owner.

When I think about the combination of fabrics, I’m thinking about the impression the fabrics make aside from color or value. For example, within a color group, or within a value group, are there differences that draw the eye? Are there details that contribute to the look or feel of the project?

One strategy that can be effective is to repeat a pattern design in multiple fabrics across a quilt. For example, you might use multiple leafy prints in various ways, or multiple dots, or plaids. When the viewer notices the second paisley, they might naturally search for a third. That search keeps the viewer attentive to the quilt — something about the quilt must be interesting to warrant it.

I don’t often take many close-up photos of my quilts (must change that …) , but recently I shared several pix of my seasonal quilt Christmas Is Coming! These show that the fabrics are mostly in reds, greens, and golds, not unexpected in a Christmas quilt.

Imagine if all the reds were done in only three fabrics. Imagine if all the greens were in one lighter green and one darker green. Imagine if all the light-valued “background” fabrics were the same throughout the quilt. Imagine if there were only one gold. Would it be as much fun to look at? Imagine snuggling under this quilt for a nap, or to read a book. Would a quilt in seven fabrics keep you looking from block to block as it drapes across your lap?

What else would be missing with fewer fabrics? The feeling would be missing. I designed this quilt to be festive, and to include a sense of whimsy. The feeling created by the combination of fabrics leads directly to emotional engagement, one of the things that draws the viewer in to look more.

In this case, more fabrics makes it more interesting. The set includes a broad array of styles and variations on the core colors. I wouldn’t say that more fabrics is always better. I’ve seen fabric lines that, even with lots of print designs, don’t offer variety of style, or much range of color. Creating a quilt using just one fabric line can make it look “matchy matchy,” or excessively coordinated. And that, in my opinion, takes us back to quilts that must depend on something besides the fabrics to be interesting.

In general, I find scrappy quilts to be more interesting than those made with fewer fabrics. But your mileage may vary! What do you like when looking at quilts made by others? What do you like when making your own quilts? 

In what will probably be my last post on making quilts interesting, I’ll talk about how story contributes.