Tag Archives: Play

Playing in the Leaves

If you’re a Northerner, you might remember playing in the leaves when you were a kid. There’s still great satisfaction in raking the yard and pulling pillowy piles of leaves together, the kinds of piles a child could disappear in. Watch this video to see the fun to be had in the leaf pile.

I’m not doing that. A) it isn’t Fall yet, and B) I’d probably break myself trying to breakdance like that!

But I am playing a little bit, both inspired and motivated by my sister. Recently she asked if I wanted to make 15″ blocks with her. My first reaction was that the blocks were too big and I didn’t know if I could make blocks that size! My second reaction was that we could make blocks that big, as well as some that are 6″, 9″, and 12″, and then make ungridded quilts of multiple block sizes. She bought in to that idea, and we started to make a plan.

I’ve always loved quilts with multiple block sizes. However, aside from dozens of medallion quilts, Stars for Nora is the only other multi-sized block quilt I’ve made.


Stars for Nora. 42″ square. August 2016. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

The quilts that caught Sister’s fancy were made from maple leaf blocks. Have you ever made them? I made my first maple leaf blocks for a round robin quilt, in 2007, the first year I was in quilt guild. The maple leaves and setting triangles were already assembled when it came to me. I added the squares on point and outer border that you see here.

I didn’t make the 6″ maple leaf blocks in the center. But I was so sure the quilt needed more of them that I made another dozen to send on to the next quilter. (I don’t have a photo of the finished quilt. It was fabulous, and my blocks got used as I hoped.) I also made several to keep for myself. Those maple leaves became placemats for both my sister and me.

Together, she and I also made this table runner. The blocks were mine and she did the setting, and she quilted it. I use it in autumn in my dining room.

And if that wasn’t enough, we also made a quilt for our brother and his wife, in 2012.

It makes me laugh to realize that all the maple leaf quilts I’ve made have been projects with other people. Playing in the leaves is more fun when you have company.

We’re making maple leaf quilts. We had to hash out some parameters for colors, backgrounds, and level of scrappiness. We’ll each make four 15″ blocks, four 12″ blocks, and eight each of 9″ and 6″. Spacers will be required to fit them together, as in Nora’s star quilt above. Later in the Fall she and I will get together and assemble parts into blocks into tops.

This project certainly wasn’t my top priority. I have five unquilted tops with backs, ready to go when I am. I have another several projects already started. I’m inspired to begin a guild challenge project for next July, something I’ll talk about in a different post. (Kerry Sanger, I may be bouncing thoughts off you for that one!) No, this wasn’t my top priority. But it’s got me excited. Inspiration (thank you, Sister!) has dragged Motivation and Energy our of the corners, and chased Focus down to join the group.

Here are my first two 15″ blocks.

Sister and I have different taste in fabric, though it overlaps quite a bit. If I had to guess, she probably hasn’t bought any 1800s repros for a decade. I still find some useful for both “old-fashioned” quilts as well as more contemporary uses. She likes busy background fabrics, and that’s harder for me. The overlap in what we like should make her blocks meld well with mine.

I’m looking forward to fun playing in the leaves.


A Delectable Idea

The other day I showed you the photos below. They show a sequence of steps to creating a block, which is a variation of a block called “Delectable Mountains.” The variation is in using two fabrics (the teal blue and the stripe) for one half of the block.

This method to create the block uses a large half-square triangle. Once the HST is sewn, it is sliced into four equal-width segments. The segments are rearranged and sewn back together. My block uses a HST at 10″ (unfinished.) Each slice is 2.5″ wide. The finished dimension of the block is 9.5″ x 8″.

Here are a few HST and transformed Delectable Mountain blocks I made recently. Cool, huh?
Del Mtn blocks in process

I used the idea at the top with multi-fabric HST halves again. This time I edged my triangles on both sides, with a much narrower strip. You can see the paprika color is edged with a pale gold, and the mid-brown is edged with black. The four blocks are built but not sewn together yet. I plan to add turquoise to the center, using a stitch-and-flip method for each of the four blocks.
nav mtn blocks

I’m playing, experimenting, designing as I go. Though I have an idea of where this is going, I’m ready to be surprised.

Thoughts on Work and Play

Near the end of 2015, I wrote this:

“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.

After struggling to “play” as I made my recent table runner, after being encouraged to improvise rather than following plans, I realized I need more thought on the differences between work and play. (And I intend to follow up with some thoughts on improvisation vs. planning.)

So I thought about what defines play for children. Children play in physical ways, learning to roll a car or ball across the floor, or do somersaults or skip or swing. They sing silly, rhythmic, made-up words. They color and cut and paste, and build towers of blocks before knocking them down. They love games like Concentration and Snakes & Ladders. They play house and pirates and going-to-the-store. They expend enormous amounts of energy learning about their environment, developing physical skills, and understanding relationships between people. Child development expert Maria Montessori said, “Play is the work of the child.”

But what they do is not the only marker of whether they are working or playing. Imagine a child in pre-school during time designated for art. The teacher has given each child a sheet of paper, a glue stick, and a stack of pre-cut, construction paper shapes. Then the teacher shows the children how to attach each of the shapes to achieve a colorful flower. Does the child see this as play? Research suggests not:

According to the few studies that have been conducted around children’s views of play they distinguish work from play based on cues; emotional and environmental. Emotional cues “include the amount of choice a child has in an activity, whether the activity is voluntary or not and how easy it is.” Environmental cues “include where the activity takes place, whether or not an adult is involved or evaluates what the child has done and the physical nature of the activity.” Children use all these cues to determine how play-like an activity is, meaning things can be more or less like play or work.

In other words, children define play based on who is making the rules, and who is evaluating the results. When the child gets to choose when, what, and how to participate, and is not evaluated for their performance, it is play.

So what does “play” mean relative to quilting? Sometimes it’s easier for me to understand something if I back into it. What does “play” NOT mean? It does NOT mean
* joyless struggling to fit someone else’s definition
* following patterns to a T
* wonky stars and log cabins just because wonky
* or simple just because simple
* or complex just because complex.

To me, play does not mean following someone else’s decisions or labels. As for the children, it is doing what I want, when I want, by my own rules and subject to no one’s judgment but my own. Play is both natural and educational. It teaches new lessons and reinforces lessons already learned. It is, more than anything, a pleasure even if not always “fun.”

By that definition, almost all of my quilting is play. I choose what I do and how I do it, to please myself. I learn and relearn and generally enjoy the process. This is regardless of how planned, structured, or deliberate the process.

Perhaps I just need to change how I see it. Maybe this is the part I need to take to heart more completely:

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.

Making with a light heart, compassion, and pleasure. That is play. Let’s PLAY!


PLAY! Three on One

Last week I started working on a new table runner for a cabinet in my dining room. I have a Christmasy one and a couple that work great for fall. But I didn’t have one in brighter colors for spring and summer. We’re throwing a party this month, and I thought this was a good time to add one more thing to my long list of stuff to do make one.

I’ve also whined to Jim oh-so-many times about not having cheerier placemats for our kitchen table. Really, who could fix that for me??? And certainly what better time to make placemats than now?

But here’s another thing: I didn’t have a plan, and I have a very hard time working without a plan. Should I design a block for the placemats? Or for the table runner? What should I make?Aaaaaaack! SO HARD! In fact, too hard. Lots of times I make things too damn hard, too complicated. This should be fun, easy. I should PLAY!

PLAY! My word of the year. So hard for me to do, which is why I need to practice that more.

I started with the table runner. Recently I’d sorted the scraps from my kaleidoscope quilt. (Still planning a post on it.) The 12 wedges that make up the star are built from strip sets. You sew together matching pairs of four to six strips, then cut shapes from the matched strip sets. The scraps from cutting the shapes are pieced from strips, too. That makes them harder to use than single-fabric scraps.

But in the spirit of PLAY, I took a rotary cutter to a couple of chunks, cutting rather perpendicular to the seams. I didn’t use a ruler so they weren’t exact. Then after wondering what the heck I’d do with those pieces, I found a fat quarter I like but have had a hard time using. (Do I say that about a lot of my fabrics?) So I cut strips from it, too. And without a plan, I built the centers for three blocks using the kaleidoscope scraps and a weird fat quarter. The block centers were different sizes once built. Then I framed the block centers with strips of another fabric, and I cut the blocks all to the same size. The frames are wonky because the centers are wonky. Narrow sashings between the blocks separated the frames. Then I bordered the whole thing with the sashing fabric.

Then I needed to make a back for the table runner. Again, I tried to make things too complicated. If it were pieced, the table runner could be two-sided. So I started pulling fabrics for a pieced back. Then I thought, no, maybe I’d make two table runners. Blech… Ultimately I cut a bunch of 5″ squares, thinking I’d just piece squares together for a second runner, and thought I’d piece a bunch more into sizes for placemats. Complicated, yes?

As I dug through things for that, I found a piece of yardage just the right size to make three placemats.

Here’s how it shakes out: I made a table runner. I pieced together a bunch of squares, which I’ll cut into two placemats. I cut a piece of wholecloth that will be three more placemats.

Then I found one of the ugliest fabrics I ever bought and used it to back all those things.

This afternoon I quilted them all. I loaded all at once on the ugly fabric, with an old piece of batting.

The wholecloth placemats are on the left, the pieced squares are in the middle, and the table runner with wonky blocks is on the right.

Binding still to come, but otherwise I’m reasonably happy with my play time.