Tag Archives: Process

Black Sheep Manor

Some quilts decide to be made, regardless of our intentions. Such was the case for Black Sheep Manor. This is a quilt I would not have made, if not for seeing a panel print earlier this year at a local quilt shop. The full panel had 15 small panel motifs with a country estate theme. The faux-crackled, tea-stained background with black print featured a sheep, two manor houses, a squirrel, two trees, and other assorted illustrations. This is not my typical style.

But Jim and I have friends, smart, funny, warm people, who’ve recently moved to a home they call their “Black Sheep Manor.” When I saw the black sheep on the panel, I had to get it. The quilt called to be made.

The Center Block

The black sheep had to center the quilt, but the small panel finishes at 7″. The size is better suited for a pillow or placemat than the focal point of a lap quilt. I’ve written before about enlarging center blocks with frames of various types. Adding variable star points doubles the size, and making a star-in-a-star quadruples it. But as much as I like stars, this little sheep called for something else.

To highlight and enlarge the sheep without other distractions, I chose to set it with an economy block setting. The simplicity draws the eye to the middle. Using strong value contrast with the subtlety of tone-on-tone prints emphasizes the block structure, as well.

The pattern design on the brick-colored fabric is of wheat stalks, and the pinky-tan setting triangles are printed with a deer motif. Both suit the small-farm life of our friends. These two fabrics, along with the sheep panel, set the theme for the rest of the quilt.

The Inner Borders

Beyond the economy center block, the first border of half-square triangles bursts forth to further enlarge the appearance. Here again, simplicity serves the purpose of enhancement rather than distraction. I did try a different arrangement of HST using two borders, and the effect was messy. As Jim reminded me, KISS is often the best policy. 🙂

The darker rust print edge around the HST finished the look of the center. Rather than the center appearing as a 7″ square, it is 22.5″.

The Middle Borders

Outside of the narrow rust strip is the second most important piece of the quilt. Though the sheep literally plays center stage, the wording personalizes it. Anyone could like black sheep, but there is only one Black Sheep Manor. The wording is hand-lettered using fabric markers. I printed the words on paper and then arranged a light box with an overturned plastic tub on top of a CFL utility light. I taped the paper to the plastic tub. Freezer paper on the back of the fabric stabilized it, and I taped that down, as well. I outlined the letters with a very fine-tipped pen, and then filled them in with a heavier marker.

Framing the wording on either end, and below the sheep block, are strips from the width-of-fabric panel print. On the left and right borders are paper-pieced triangles that finish 2.5″ x 3.75″. They are proportioned differently than flying geese, which lets them fit the space evenly as well as suggest pine trees. The corner blocks are of the broken dishes format.

Black Sheep Manor. Approx 58″ x 58″. September 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

The next pieced border is of larger HSTs. The HSTs repeats the shapes of the inner border, but the shifting orientation keeps them from simple repetition. It also prevents them from making a dark line on either side of the border, so it is more open and airy.

Also note the narrow strip borders on either side of the HST. These are one of the lightest values in the whole quilt. Using the light color is a bit unexpected, and it keeps the quilt from descending into dinginess.

The Outer Borders

The next border is a style called “piano keys.” I cut the piano keys border to finish at 6″ and planned to make shoofly corner blocks. Instead, I chose four of the other small panel pieces and cornered the border with them. Once their decorative “frame” was trimmed off, they finished at 5.25″, so I trimmed the piano keys to match. Aside from the corner blocks, the piano keys border is mostly dark in value.

The piano keys are made with 28 strips on each side. I made the strips into blocks of four strips each. Each block has a red, a brown (or black,) a blue, and a green strip. These are two warm and two cool. I assembled the blocks in haphazard order, and then assembled the borders only making sure that no two strips of the same color touched each other. Aside from very minimal rearrangement, the placement is random, but the colors and “temperatures” are well-distributed. This was easy! And more importantly, it is not formal or regimented, but casual.

The last border of another rusty print frames the whole. I didn’t know what width I wanted until I tried it. No elements of the quilt are very large, so a relatively narrow border worked better for proportions.

The Fabric Choices

Almost all of my quilts have at least one scrappy border. They help to integrate the multiple pieces of similar color that I use within a quilt. This quilt differs by being scrappy throughout, giving it a casual and homey feel.

Even with scraps, the look is consistent. All the colors have a golden tinge. The reds are brick red and rust; the greens are olivey; the blues all have a touch of teal; and the browns and blacks are warm, not cool. The tan or “background” fabrics also tend toward golden, not grey.

However, if you look more closely at the fabrics, you’ll notice I didn’t take the fabric patterns too seriously. They range from 1800s reproductions to a small piece of a circus print, to Kaffe Fassett. The color and value were far more important than the style of print.

To keep the dozens of fabrics from leading the quilt into chaos, there are places without scraps. For example, the center block has only three fabrics: the black sheep panel, the inner brick red triangles, and the outer tan triangles. The brick red and tan are repeated with the same fabrics for the broken dishes corner blocks. The inner strip border and the final border echo the brick red, varying it somewhat toward rust. The two pale strips borders use the same fabrics. The panel corner blocks with the piano keys emphasize the sheep by repeating the same fabric style. All these points of repetition help calm the appearance.

Except for the panel (which demanded I buy it and make a quilt with it,) all of the fabrics are from my stash, including the back. The vast majority is from scraps and small pieces. Very little is from yardage. It’s been a very long time since I worked with mostly scraps and I enjoyed it a lot.

The Quilting

I had a hard time deciding how to quilt this. I didn’t want the stitching to run rampant over the little sheep, but I also didn’t want to custom quilt the entire piece. I compromised by quilting the center very simply, with an outline of the sheep, a simple fan pattern on the brick red, and triangles of leaves and loops on the tan. For the rest of the quilt, I did an all-over leaves and loops design.

My Overall Assessment

I really fell in love with this quilt. As noted at the top, this is not my typical style, with the black-and-tan-and-country feel. But I often think my very best quilts are those I make for specific people, and I think this is one of them. Another reason I love it is because I couldn’t have made it before now. The design shows a level of expertise that I’ve developed over time. The paper piecing is a new technique for me this year. Hand-lettering the banner isn’t something I would have tried until recently. Besides the look, I enjoyed the process. The ease with which it went together is rare. Each step of the way, decisions were simple, but from a strong sense of direction, not merely from habit.

My friends received the quilt and are thrilled. They’re happy, and that makes me happy.

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Class Quilts

My medallion class began last week! In class I help lead participants through the process of designing their own medallion quilts. And while they create, I do, too.

In the few weeks we have together, while each of them is making one quilt, I design and construct two. I start with very different centers and color schemes in order to demonstrate a variety of strategies.

The first one I began has a center block that features flying geese circling a star. The block design came from the Big Book of Scrap Quilts, published by Oxmoor House in 2005. The quilt pattern is called “Dizzy Geese,” designed by Joan Streck. Dizzy Geese is a block quilt, with a 17″ block made with templates.

I re-drew the block to 16″ and paper-pieced it.

Though I’ve made quilts in reds and greens before, I haven’t made one I’ve thought of as a Christmas quilt. This one will have that intention, but I’d still like to keep it lighthearted. I’ll minimize the holiday-focused prints, but refer to the occasion through shaping. For instance, the circling flying geese give the impression of a wreath.

With the intricate center, I wanted a simple first border, but one that would extend the range of color. Because the star points are a forest green print, I chose a citrus green for the border. The corner blocks add to the gold, found in the center’s green print and in its background fabric.

The second border was fun and easy to make. Take a look. The corners are just half-square triangles. The side blocks are each made of three pieces and all the blocks are same. Their orientation gives the look of a twisting ribbon as they circle the top.

And the third border is a plaid with dark green, dusky gold, and burgundy, with bright gold corners. I don’t love the dark plaid, for various reasons. But I think it will serve its purpose as the design develops. It’s easy to get hung up on individual elements, such as the color or shapes or value of a particular border. Just as you don’t have to love a particular block to have it work well in a block quilt, you don’t have to love a particular border in a medallion quilt. Every border changes every border, and it’s the final effect that counts.

I have tentative plans for the next borders, but won’t work on this more until next week.

The second quilt begins with a bear’s paw block in the center. I’m less certain of the direction for this one. I really like the center block, with its beautiful Julie Paschkis print in the large sections. And I love the batik that surrounds the block. I am not absolutely sure they work together. However, some patience is in order as I let the process play out. (Trust the process.)

Though I rarely work on two quilts in the same stage at the same time, the chaos is kind of exciting, too. We’ll see if I still feel that way in a couple of weeks. 🙂

Six-Pointed Star Is Off The Frame

Last week I looked at some very old posts from this blog. One noted a handful of UFOs, including the 6-pointed star. I needed to set the points in background and then figure out what else to do. That was more than four years ago, and already it was a challenging puzzle.

Besides the design puzzle, it also provided some good quilting puzzles. First up, the batting. I decided to quilt it with wool batting. I have two new batts in the closet, both large enough for this project. However, I also had largish chunks of remnants. I wondered if there was enough to use for a quilt finishing at about 80″ square. After pulling it all out of the closet and draping it across the floor, it was easy to see there was plenty. They were all the same brand, Hobbs. However, I found that each batting was substantially different. Some was thick, dense, and spongy. Some was thin and with little resiliency. Some varied in thickness and density from one side of the batting to the other. (The new batts in the closet are a different brand. I’m hoping for better consistency.)

The quilt center is large enough, with the large background setting, that I decided to use a double layer of batting to set it off. That gave another challenge — how to use those remnants to show the center off, and also have fairly consistent loft and density through the rest of it.

Big question: should I stitch all the batting pieces together before starting to quilt? Big answer: NO! It seemed like stitching would crush the edges. Instead I saved the piece I wanted for the center, and other than that, simply kept sliding in more pieces as I went. It was a pretty improvisational method, but it worked. You can see by the translucency in the photo below that there is no batting behind most of the quilt top at that point.

For most of my quilts I wouldn’t have the patience or see the need for “custom” quilting. Instead I use some kind of edge-to-edge design, such as loops and leaves, or spirals, or all-over feathering. This one, again because of the large center star and setting, seemed to call for more special treatment. I used a combination of free-motion quilting and ruler work on this quilt. In the photo above you can see I used blue painters’ tape to remind myself of where I wanted to put feathering. The tape is easy to use and move and move again with no damage to the fabric.

Here are a couple more photos of quilting in process.

I did long feathering on the outer borders, and ruler work on the inner border of 4-patches on point. It was easy to do the “top” and “bottom” borders with continuous movement, because they run parallel to the frame. Doing the side borders was more challenging. There are two choices: 1) do the side border quilting in small sections, as I advance the quilt on the frame; or 2) take the quilt off the frame, turn it 90°, making the side borders now at the “top” and “bottom.” I did the second.

Choosing the second method is easier in some ways and harder in others. For example, it requires big-stitch basting through all the areas to be quilted after turning. The basting stabilizes and secures the layers, so they don’t shift and pleat with turning.

When I got through the first time, I turned it and started again at the top.

The quilt isn’t finished, as I don’t have binding on it yet. But here it is, quilting finished and off the frame. The first photo shows some of the detail, while the second gives the big picture. You can see in both of them that the wool, especially in the center, gives a lot of stitch definition and texture.

I’ll finish with binding some day soon. And I need a name for it. (Any ideas?) Before that, though, I’m working on my class sample. I’ll show you progress on that soon.

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.