Tag Archives: Process

Martha Washington’s Children’s Games

Yesterday I was adding a final border to my Games with Martha quilt. I haven’t told you about this yet, other than a passing mention.

Games with Martha is part of a larger project I’m working on. It’s an interpretation of a quilt top made by Martha Washington, around 220 years ago. Martha Washington was a remarkable and complicated woman. As our first First Lady, she served at Valley Forge with her husband George, during the Revolutionary War. She was considered an adept manager of the plantations of both her first husband and Washington, bargaining with Europeans on tobacco prices.

She was a slave owner, having inherited the use of more than 80 slaves when her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis, died. The slaves were, in essence, held in trust for her use during her lifetime. When she died, ownership of these “dower” slaves reverted back to members of Custis’s family. George Washington also owned slaves. In his will Washington directed that they be freed upon Martha’s death. After he died, she freed them soon after.

And she was a quilter. She is known to have started three quilts, finished one, finished the top of another, and started the top of a third. It is possible, of course, that she was not the quilter, but a slave was. However, since the third top was finished by a younger relative after her death, it seems likely that it was her own handwork, rather than something she directed a slave to do. All three quilts are now held at Mount Vernon in Virginia.

One of the quilt tops is called “Children’s Games” because of a toile used in large corner blocks depicting children at play. I’m creating an interpretation of the top. Note, there is a difference between an interpretation and a reproduction. A reproduction is a copy intending to appear essentially the same as the original. An interpretation is a representation of the original, but without intention to look exactly alike.

Here is a photo in George Washington’s Mount Vernon Facebook page showing a woman who is making a reproduction of Children’s Games, along with the original flat on the table.

While her reproduction is, I believe, imitating the scale (larger than eight feet) and creating or finding copies of the fabrics, my version is not that. Again, it’s an interpretation. It will finish at approximately seven feet (about 84″) and uses fabrics currently available and from my stash.

I have finished the top. However, it is BIG and I didn’t get a photo of it. I did get a picture prior to adding the last border yesterday. Here’s what it looked like, and a comparison to the original. Mine is on the right of the screen capture.

My final border is technically a double pink, but is printed in pink, red, and white with small red rosettes in the stripe. It will look substantially like hers. I mitered the border corners and messed that up, cutting two of the strips too short. (If you look at Washington’s mitered corners, they’re not great, either.) However, all’s well that ends well and it looks just fine now.

I’ll tell you more about my mitering adventure, the design of the quilt, and some other things soon. Thanks for stopping by and reading.

New Work, Subject to Change

The point of blogging and the point of quilting, for me, is enjoyment. And self-expression. And moving things around until I get them “right.” I just finished reading a blog post by Austin Kleon, author/artist/poet who wrote Keep Going, among other books.

In his blog post, Kleon calls blogging a “forgiving medium,” because even after a piece is published, the author can edit easily. Usually no one is the wiser, and if they are, usually they are kind about it.

Quilting is like that, to a point. I’ve changed quilt tops in small ways and large, at all stages of construction. Of course, once quilted, it’s harder to make changes. Even then, though, there are opportunities to embellish, add stitching, or judiciously change colors with markers or paints. My friend Joanna Mack The Snarky Quilter changes finished quilts regularly, to positive effect.

I have a new project, and as with almost every project, it already isn’t what I expected. I started with this:

It’s a basic star-in-a-star featuring a large flower from a showy print. The outer corners, if you aren’t sure, are very dark navy, not black. They do rather disappear into the background. In fact, they disappear so much, they are the first thing I changed, substituting white corner triangles.

After modifying the block, I considered how to frame it. Now imagine me, chin on hand, eyes directed upward, much like a cat that isn’t really looking at anything. (We call that cat “Stuart,” even though he hasn’t lived with us for thirty years.) Pondering, pondering… And it came to me, I should frame it with the same showy print that inspired the center.

The showy print is one I bought, if I remember correctly, in Taos in 2014. And again I don’t know for sure, but it might be an Alexander Henry piece. Long ago and far away… But it’s BIG! and SHOWY! and DIRECTIONAL! And it has one more challenge: I’ve fussy cut chunks out of it a few times.

When I decided to use it, I also decided to set the center block on point. I had enough of the big print for setting triangles, if I cut very carefully.

Yeah, you can guess what happened. I cut two big squares and cut them each on the diagonal to make setting triangles. But because the print is directional, I needed to cut one square from northwest to southeast, and the other from southwest to northeast. And I didn’t. ugh. Luckily I could cut another square almost big enough and piece over a missing section.

It worked. I framed the center block with a very fine yellow line, and then set it in the showy print. Because of the visual weight, I needed to balance that with a weighty border. After rifling through stash, I had a nice array of pinks, oranges, blues, and greens.

Along with white, they became hourglass blocks to surround the magenta spacer strip.

I’m not sure what’s next. That’s okay. I can take my time, ponder the possibilities a la Stuart. I can make and unmake, do surgery to remove or transplant parts. There is nothing precious, even a piece of fabric purchased long ago and far away.

Wind River Beauty, Project Process Part 1

My recent post on project process summarized the steps in project development and implementation. As fancy as project flow charts can get, it really comes down to this, a simple set of procedures that can help you make a quilt, build a highway, or write a blog post. I’ll outline how these steps apply to making the Wind River Beauty quilt, one of my current projects.

Identify problem or objective
The problem to solve or objective to meet was to create a quilt using the New York Beauty block I made in a workshop last year. The original block I made, before modifying, is below.
The fabric in the center was fussy cut from a border stripe fabric. I experimented with the symmetry as shown in this video:

Potential solutions
When thinking of potential solutions to any problem, you can switch into brainstorming mode. Think of a lot of different options, at first without evaluating them as good or bad. When you get stuck, consult one of the many articles online for tips for more brainstorming. Remember, one of the best questions to ask is “what if?”

Making the block wasn’t difficult, but I wasn’t interested in making more. That meant any quilt using it would use only the one. It could be a small quilt like a table topper; a larger ungridded quilt, such as one using the block as one of many blocks of various sizes and designs; a larger gridded one, such as one using a number of other blocks the same size, but different designs; or my specialty, a medallion quilt, featuring the New York Beauty as a center block.

Honestly, I didn’t really brainstorm. I seriously only considered making a medallion quilt, as that was my intention as I made the block. There are still infinite options open within the category “medallion quilt,” so that decision alone didn’t determine my solution, but it did give it a framework.

Beyond that, I wanted to use and honor the fabric I purchased at a trading post on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, south of Yellowstone National Park. A traditional quilt style for some Native American groups is the Lone Star, also known as Star of Bethlehem. There were many quilts of this style for sale at the trading post. If you google “Lone Star” or “Star of Bethlehem,” you’ll see lots of beautiful examples. Here is an illustration from EQ8 of the basic format:

Constraints and resources
Prior to taking the workshop, I assumed that the block, if successful, would be used to center a quilt. The feature fabric mentioned above was both a resource and a primary constraint, since I had a limited amount of it.

In fact, fabric availability is often one of the biggest constraints for my quilts. I almost always start with stash, filling in by shopping only if needed. For this project, I had to create work-arounds for multiple fabrics. I designed my border treatment to use the limited length of the feature fabric. Some colors from the center block required substitution fabrics. The yellow used for the star’s background was a particular issue. The photo below shows two yellows I tried for background. The bright yellow in the lower left corner was too strong, while the soft butter yellow served as an appropriate foil for the stronger colors of the block and star points. You can also see two different purples, and two different rusts. (The color that might look like red in the star points is actually rust in real life. The colors, in general, do not show well in the photos.)

Besides materials, time and skills are both resources and constraints, too. There is no deadline for this project. In that sense, time is a relatively unlimited resource. My skills are a resource in the sense that I’m capable of the design and piecing for the quilt (although there were piecing problems, discussed in the next post.) However, my quilting skills are “intermediate” level. Over time I’ve chosen to do custom quilting more often for my quilts. As I do, I learn more and upgrade my abilities. But I still can’t do all the things I want to do for each project.

~*~*~

This post is long enough! I’ll share more about the execution of my plan in another post. Thanks as always for taking a look.

Project Process

I’ve been procrastinating on writing more about my Wind River Beauty project. The first two posts were about some of the math involved with developing the design, and my intention is to share my decision-making as I created it. With quilting still to do, it’s still in process and I don’t feel “late” with my report. However, it isn’t one of those projects that has flowed naturally from start to finish, as if freed fully grown like Athena from Zeus’s brain. As it was with making it, I’m struggling with knowing how to write about it.

To help organize my thoughts (and indulge in some productive procrastination,) I’ll write instead about the project process.

A hundred years ago I designed and wrote software, so I learned to think in flow charts. Later when I taught principles of wealth management to undergraduates at the university, I used a very simple idea to discuss the overall process. It’s the same process used for any problem-solving or project work. It all begins with identifying the problem to be solved. Here are the basic steps:

How does this translate to quilting? Anytime we undertake a quilt project, we first need to identify the objective. Sometimes that is easy and sometimes not. Possibilities include wanting to use particular scraps or orphan blocks, making a special-occasion gift, or creating for a contest or challenge. Really, the potential “problems” to be solved or objectives to be met are personal and related to a moment in time, for most of us.

After identifying the problem or objective, we come up with possible solutions. Again, there are endless options. However, they are limited by constraints and available resources. Special-occasion quilts are, by their nature, constrained. You generally choose to make a quilt for the occasion itself, or specifically to suit the receiver. Last year I made a graduation quilt in white and pale greys, based on the request of the graduate. Or perhaps you want to make a quilt with appliqué but your skills are limited. That probably will affect the design you choose. Resources can include time, money, or available supplies. Or, if you need someone else’s help, like a longarm quilter, their availability and cost might affect your plan.

Given all the possibilities and the constraints and resources, you choose the best option as you see it, and begin making. Once begun, almost every project has its share of challenges, which requires another cycle through the steps of problem and possible solution identification, along with the constraining factors. For instance, if you originally planned to make a baby quilt to present after a baby is born, but then are invited to a baby shower prior to its birth, your available time may be reduced by several months. That can call for a change in plans, perhaps simplifying the original design, or choosing to use only three fabrics instead of a range of scraps.

Finally (whew!) the project is complete. Of course, other challenges might arise from that, including how best to use scraps, putting away the supplies, storing or giving the quilt, and choosing the next project. And the cycle begins anew.

***

Though the basic look of the Wind River Beauty project was clear to me from early on, it’s had its share of challenges. To be clear, nothing in particular has gone wrong. I had to change strategies on construction at one point, and available fabric led to decisions that might have been different without that constraint. And my current skills at quilting (and its design) have slowed the finish. Is this very different from most projects? Not particularly. Perhaps none of them really are Athenas, springing fully formed from the head of the creator. 

Wind River Beauty, Math Part 1

In 2017 Jim and I drove thousands of miles in a number of different trips. When you’re in the car together that much, literally a few inches apart, it helps to have entertainment. Fortunately, we like to talk with one another, so the types of things one might muse about silently instead become topics for conversation. For example, after noticing a stop sign and considering how it looks like a snowball block, I asked, “If you start with a square and want to make a regular octagon from it, how do you calculate the length so each of the 8 sides is the same?” Huh?

Okay, look at the two illustrations below. The one on the left is a stop sign. It’s a regular octagon, meaning that all of the angles are equal and all of the lengths are equal. The diagonal segments of the octagon are the same lengths as the horizontal and vertical segments. I noted the dimensions as a for the vertical and horizontal segments, and c for the diagonal segments. As you can see, a = c. (Click the image to open the gallery and see larger.) The segment lengths are all the same. The dotted segment noted as b is not part of the octagon. If you extend the vertical and horizontal lines to create a square, b is the extension.

On the right is an illustration of a square, red & white snowball block. (This specific snowball block is designed to pair with something like a 9-patch block.) For the octagon (white, 8-sided shape,) the angles are all the same. However, the lengths of the octagon line segments are not the same. The diagonal segments of the octagon c are longer than the horizontal and vertical segments a. Why? For this particular block, each side of the square is cut in thirds; a = b. Going down the left side of the square, the top red segment b is equal in length to the center white segment a, which is equal to the lower red segment. The equal lengths make it easy to pair this block with a 9-patch. But the equal lengths of a and b mean the diagonals c are longer by a factor of 1.414. The general idea is the same for all snowball blocks, with the length of c the diagonal dependent on the length of the two triangle legs. See the primer on the Pythagorean theorem at the bottom of the post if you want to know more. 

So how do you take a square and make a regular octagon from it? I’m not bad at math but will be the first to admit I didn’t learn my geometry. Jim worked it out for me. What he found is

b = .707a
2b = 1.414a
==> side of the square = 2b + a = 2.414a

Why does it matter? At the time it was just curiosity, but I quickly found a project to apply it. In spring of 2018 I took a workshop with Toby Lischko on making New York Beauty blocks. She taught a simple way to use curved rulers and paper piecing to create these lovely, complex blocks. This was mine.

After I made it, I thought about how to use it to center a quilt. My design idea would work best if the center was a regular octagon.

With Jim’s formula in hand, knowing the size of the square, I solved for a and b, which let me know how big to cut the stitch-and-flip squares to make the corners.

I wanted a center block finishing at 17″. (Why 17″? That comes later, more math!) That means
side of the square = 2b + a = 2.414a
17 = 2.414a
a = 17/2.414 (just dividing both sides by the same number to solve for a)
a = 7.04, or just barely over 7″.

Since the finished side of the square is 17″ and a (the center segment) is 7″, the other two segments b are 5″ each. I cut my stitch and flip corners 5.5″ each. This is the result. The finished length of the diagonals (along the purple/orange seam) is the same as the finished length of the orange segment along the horizontal and vertical sides of the square. 

Pythagorean Theorem

Here’s the concept. The picture below shows a triangle that is 1″ on the vertical and horizontal sides. The diagonal measures 1.414″, which is the square root of 2″. (Check with your calculator if you don’t believe me.)

Sq_rt_of_2
For a right triangle, the square of the length of the diagonal (hypotenuse) is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. We often see this expressed as a² + b² = c². To find c, take the square root of c².

In the case to the left, a = 1; a² = 1; b = 1; b² = 1; a² + b² = c² = 2; c is the square root of 2, or 1.414.

In fact, the diagonal of every square is 1.414 times the length of the side. So
length x 1.414 = diagonal.

1″ x 1.414 = 1.414″
2″ x 1.414 = 2.828″ or close to 2 7/8″
3″ x 1.414 = 4.242″ or close to 4 1/4″
4″ x 1.414 = 5.656″ or close to 5 5/8″
and so on.

That also means that if I know the diagonal of a square, I can find the length using
diagonal/1.414 = length. For example
6″/1.414 = 4.243″, or very close to 4 1/4″.
This is also useful in the next step of the Wind River Beauty.

Agreed, you gotta be something of a math nerd to work through all this. I’m glad all my quilts don’t require this process, but it’s a wonderful tool to use for a few.