30 January, 2015

Talking Quilts... Inspiration

Keep your eyes open.
Keep your spirit open.
Carry a phone, a sketchbook, a photographic memory.
Never stop dreaming.
Look up, down, and all around.

And then...

I can never think of such cool things.
There is no way I could turn that into a quilt.
My brain just doesn't work that way.

(The texture of these boards with the mix of colour has me thinking about the woodgrain fabrics I've been collecting.)

Today I'm talking about inspiration. Namely, the inspiration for quilts. The colour combinations, patterns, and ideas that get us buying fabric, cutting it up, and sewing it back together. All in the name of a warm end product.

Quite often I am asked just where I get my inspiration. Frankly, it is kind of a hard question to answer. That's because, for one, there isn't a single answer. And two, you really never know when you will be inspired. Inspiration isn't something you can teach. Translating it, yes, but not finding it.

That means I will answer that it can be anything like...

... a toddler's scribbles (Inspired Improvisation)
... a handful of crayons and some painful experiences (2+2=4)
... family property (Roots)
... the tool of my trade (Sewing Machine Quilt)
... a hike with the family (Mountain Meadows)
... my flag (Oh Canada!)
... a necklace (Austin Circle Sampler)

Among others. 

(I've never actually made a rainbow quilt, but the lines on this sidewalk art for Pride have me thinking of trying something a little different when I do feel motivated to do one.)

There have been bundles of fabric that get me excited, colour combinations dancing around and waiting for the right pattern. It can be a feeling I get that needs to come out and fabric is the way. It can be a tile floor, a comment or request by my husband. Frankly, it can come from anywhere and you never know when it will hit. 

Then there will be times where nothing comes, nothing seems exciting, nothing gets you wanting to sew. For a creative person those times are really, really awful. Burnout, stress, being overwhelmed. When there is too much other stuff crowding your heart and stealing away your energy then the inspiration doesn't find you. Rather, you don't see it.

That's because it is always there. As people who work in colour and shape on a regular basis it is impossible to not see quilts in so much around us. When people ask me about finding inspiration the answer is truly in being able to see it for yourself. I can't give you my inspiration and expect you to get jazzed about it. I can only encourage you to see it as something you can do for yourself. The inspiration is there.

(One of those aspirational magazines you find in expensive hotels, but I loved both the art and the layout of this article.)

Those platitudes about opening your eyes and your heart are true. When we are closed off and walking around with blinders on we can't see everything that is around us. (I'll admit, there are times when this is a good thing.) To see the inspiration we need to be open to it.

I truly believe that we all need a way to capture the inspiration. A dedicated sketchbook works for me, as do pictures. The main reason I believe in capturing everything is that when the darker times come, you have reference material. You can show yourself things that once got you excited. It is also handy when a deadline of a baby or magazine looms, you have something to call on. Inspiration on demand is a hard thing.

Not everyone tracks things this way. Some prefer to let the good ideas stick around as they need to while the others trickle away as less exciting. Whatever works for you.

(Inner tubes, for my circle obsession. Plus, who doesn't love the turquoise of summer pools and Caribbean beaches?)

Quilt stores try to do a lot of this work for you. So do magazines, books, and pattern designers. Inspiration doesn't mean you are creating your own unique designs all the time. It is still inspiration when you are drawn to the cover of a pattern or the bundle the store put together. Does it get you excited to quilt? Does it make you want to create? Then it is inspiring. 

Inspiration isn't magical or ephemeral. Bluntly, inspiration is something pretty that makes us want to create. How and what you create is up to you. So, yes, keep your eyes open. Then get your butt in the seat and sew.

This is the first post in a monthly series on all the steps of making a quilt. Musings and thoughts on the process. 

26 January, 2015

A Year in a Quilt - Alturas is Done

Alturas Quilt
60'' x 75''

A true labour of love and joy is finished! Almost a year to the date of starting my first major hand appliqué project the last stitches went in the binding and the last threads were buried. This is the Alturas pattern from Carolyn Friedlander. And when I started it I thought I would only make 9 blocks in an attempt to simply say that I tried hand appliqué!

I never got bored making these blocks. They were the perfect on the go project for me. Small, very portable, and easy to both prep and finish. Once I realized I was going to go beyond my original intention of a pillow it was easy to get caught up in the process. From picking fabrics to prepping the appliqué, from receiving fabric donations to round out the combinations to all the places they went with me. They always kept my attention. I must admit, I was a little bit sad when I finished them.

I'm not sad that I've finished the quilt, though. It makes me smile. There are so many memories in this quilt. Really, I should just call it 2014. And so many more will come in its enjoyment.

Initially, I thought the binding would be a coral print to bring out the colours of the appliqué. But when I put it up against the quilt I found that my eye was drawn out to the binding, not in to the appliqué. So I picked a pretty, but much more subtle fabric from my stash for the binding. This is a great print from Violet Craft's Brambleberry Ridge line with Michael Miller.

The binding does tie together the few bits of yellow I decided to add to the quilt. Just enough.

The quilting was super simple. While I'm not opposed to quilting over my hand stitching on all that appliqué, I wanted to go easy on the quilting with this one. It would be soft no matter what because of the Quilter's Dream batting, but I really wanted to emphasize the appliqué with minimal quilting. So I went in the ditch on all the patchwork. Around the borders I added additional lines. And each Alturas appliqué has a bar tack in the centre. Nothing fancy.

Let me tell you this though - that was a lot of threads to bury from 72 bar tacks!

Well now I think I will give this quilt away to a friend. This quilt was entirely about the making of it. Almost all of my joy and pleasure in this quilt is already there. Sometimes you get so excited to finish a quilt, the excitement builds and builds to a giddy little dance when you are done. This was different. I enjoyed all the appliqué, all the making so much that the finished quilt is not as exciting. Don't get me wrong, I love it! But my heart is already IN the quilt, I don't need to be under it to feel the love.

It's funny. I always talk about how Improv is about the process. Starting without much more than an inkling of where it might end up. While I started this quilt with little intention of a finished product, I never would have figured that appliqué, for me, would be ALL about the process. Seems silly, in retrospect, because slowing down in order to appliqué inherently makes it about the process. I just never clued into that before.

I sure am happy I've got that now.

22 January, 2015

Worn Out Binding

It's a good thing that your quilt gift is so well loved that this is what the binding looks like.

This is from the wedding quilt I made my Brother and Sister-in-Law. They didn't quite get it in time for their wedding, but it is still 14 years old. It lays on their bed and gets used every single night. My SIL is from New Orleans and even in the summer in Alberta she likes to have the weight and warmth of the quilt on her.

When I was visiting them a few weeks ago my brother pointed out to me that the binding is quite worn out. Yes, yes it is. That means I need to replace it. The original was a double fold binding, hand stitched to the back. One layer of the binding is worn through, as you can see.

Would you remove the original binding first or put a new one over it?

20 January, 2015

Marching Together

We don't celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day here in Canada. As I've said before, we frankly aren't taught much about the civil rights movement. Not because we aren't without our own shameful past (and present) of racism, but the marches and protests of the 50s and 60s aren't much of a topic in our history classes. Until my trip to Birmingham most of what I knew was from pop culture - hip hop, novels, and movies.

When I found myself with an hour of unexpected free time yesterday I couldn't help but pull out my march inspired blocks. It seemed appropriate on the day and all.

My blocks were pressed, trimmed, and a lay out determined. I filled in the blanks with more white. Now this large block measures about 30'' x 32''. It needs to be framed or made part of something larger. I'm just not entirely sure what that next step will be. Right now I'm thinking a Courthouse Steps kind of construction for framing it. But I've also thought of making 4 more similar large blocks and doing something with those.

For now, I will keep this up on the design wall to contemplate the options, and the precious and passionate sacrifices that inspired it.

16 January, 2015

Friday Favourites - Silk Thread

Okay, so it isn't exactly breaking news. But silk thread for appliqué? Oh my word, this stuff is awesome.

We know that I have the full on appliqué addiction. I started another new project for appliqué this week (In my defence, it is a class sample for a hand appliqué class I'll be teaching.) So I pulled out the thread Carolyn sent me for Christmas. I figured that if she recommended it and I was addicted to her patterns as much as I am that I should try it.

Life changing. I was using Aurifil 60W before, so not exactly bad thread. But that's like comparing a glass of clear, filtered water to drinking water as it drips from a glacier. Or a fantastic bar of Ghiradelli chocolate, then a chocolate piece right from a swiss chocolatier's hand. Both wonderful, both without any reason to complain. But one is clearly better than the other for the task at hand, whether that be refreshment, pleasure, or hand appliqué.

If you are interested in learning appliqué yourself and are local or close to Calgary, check out the schedule at My Sewing Room. And make sure you are all subscribed to the newsletter for all sorts of events, announcements, and extra bits.

14 January, 2015

Low Volume Shoeman's Puzzle Update

This week's old project to work on was these Shoeman's Puzzle blocks. I was originally inspired by Denyse Schmidt's version in Modern Quilts Traditional Inspirations. Hers, however, is a two colour quilt.

The low volume prints mean the pattern is quite subtle, but it is there. That's because I used various shades of solid white for contrast. Print will always contrast with solid (as long as it isn't too tiny of a print) so the design still comes through.

I am so in love with these blocks. A lot of the quilts I've finished in the last while I've given away, or they are for teaching. This one, this quilt will be mine. With the slabs it captures the essence of my first book, especially because it is mostly made with the scraps from second book. Most of the slabs get made while I'm teaching - I use these as demo sewing. I feel it represents everything about my quilting as a career to this point. There is no way anyone else will get this quilt.

There are still more blocks to make. How many, however, is still up for debate. In my head I'd always pictured it 70'' x 70''. A generous lap quilt for me. For a brief moment I considered making it 80'' x 80'' so it could go on one of the girls' beds, but thought better of that. When the rows are an odd number the pattern is even. Normally I am all about the symmetry, but I kind of prefer the look with the uneven number. 50'' x 70'' is fine for a lap quilt, but I don't think that is enough to get the full effect of all the secondary patterns formed by this pattern.

So, I guess that means I have at least 21 more blocks to make. At least.

12 January, 2015

Playing with Circles in Quilting - Part 1

What happens when you use pieced blocks for your circles?

I've experimented with improv blocks, for both the circle and the background, with good success. This time I wanted to try some precision pieced blocks, to see if there is any difference. I was also interested in testing out the new machine with my trustworthy technique.

These were orphan blocks I found in my closet. I didn't make any of them and, to be honest, I'm not sure where they came from. Perhaps extra donations from the Just One Slab charity quilts? They seemed perfectly appropriate to experiment with.

The small circles were regular appliqué circles. I had some old templates out and they were just the right size. The technique works great, but next time I would just make new templates. My guess is that I set these templates aside because something about them wasn't quite round. Not to mention that freezer paper loses its crispness after a while. As a result, my circles aren't terribly round. But, the idea of this with the pieced blocks works great.

The big blocks were made with the Reverse Circle technique I teach. I thought it best to try this with the big ones for a couple of reasons. One, new freezer paper. And two, I suspected these would end up looking better. The seam allowances of a pieced block don't make the edges of the circle bulky. My suspicions were confirmed. I kind of love these blocks.

If you do use pieced blocks for circles keep in mind that part of your piecing will be cut off. You can lose points of a star, or entire sections of a rail fence. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is a design consideration. I actually think it could look cool if you had a quilt of chopped off blocks, but each block was chopped off differently. Or maybe you take an entire quilt top that you don't like, and make circles out of it. Then piece the circle blocks together in the order of where they were cut. It would be like portholes into another quilt. Whatever you cut off are generally useful scraps too, so don't be afraid of wasting fabric.

All year I am going to be posting more and more circle techniques. This is some time to play with circles and there are so many things to do beyond the basics. Join me for the monthly series, Playing with Circles in Quilting.

If you want more details on making circles or any of the techniques I introduce here, check out my Craftsy class: Inset and Applique Circles by Machine or my workshop in the book, Lucky Spool's Essential Guide to Modern Quiltmaking.