Sunday, November 29, 2009

Amish Quilt Collection of Faith and Stephen Brown

I've been spending way too much of my time staring at the pictures of Amish quilts from this website which I found via Moving Hands. It's an odd website because it's a gallery of images without a clear attribution. Based on the text (specifically a reference to a show at the de Young) I did a little search and found that the images are of the quilt collection of Faith and Stephen Brown. Currently I'm working on a couple of variations on Amish Bars quilts. I would share pictures, but both are prezzies that have yet to be gifted. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I've been contemplating the idea of expressing luminosity through fabric for awhile now. Not sure if its mention in The Modern Quilt Workshop by Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr sparked the idea or merely propelled that existing idea forward. Regardless, Barb over at Fun with Barb and Mary got to take a class with Bill Kerr all about luminosity in quilts. She posted some great pictures. If I can't persuade my guild to get Bill Kerr as a speaker/instructor, I might just try to execute a similar exercise to the one Barb documented from the class on my own. I found this via Weeks Ringle's excellent blog Craft Nectar.

Can you tell from the early stages of my Jan Krentz Variable Hunter Star that I'm working through some luminosity issues with this project? Of course, I'm kinda cheating by using Michael Miller's Fairy Frost, which is actually printed with metallic stuff and thus reflects light. But I'm also using matte white and an assortment of grays and blacks to build on the idea.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tea Dyeing

I am doing a number of home decor projects for a room with something of a zebra theme. The fabric at the top of the following picture is the upholstery fabric I found. The fabric at the bottom of the picture is inexpensive 100% cotton black and white zebra print for other stuff in the same room. To make the color of the bottom fabric a little closer to the upholstery fabric I tea dyed it.

Tea dyeing is the incredibly simple process of brewing a vat of tea and soaking your fabric in it until it is stained the requisite shade of off-white. Tea dyeing is often done by quilters who are trying to give their quilts a more antique look. It is also used as an overdye to unify a very scrappy pallet.

I prewashed the fabric to remove any residue from the manufacturing process that might impede the tea from staining the fabric. I was trying to go from a stark white to a pretty dark brown, so I brewed a very strong tea. I used about half a gallon of tap hot water and about twenty tea bags (technically decaf black tea . . . I mean, who drinks decaf black tea?). I let them steep until the water was cool.

Then I took out the tea bags. Leaving them in might result in uneven staining, which would be cool if that's what you're going for, but I'm looking for a more even all over stain. I put in the fabric.

It immediately soaked up some color, so if you want a small change, you could do it quickly with a dark tea. I left the fabric to soak for an hour and a half. Then I cut a swatch and ironed it dry to see how dark it was.

I think it reached the right value, so I squeezed out the excess tea and threw the fabric in the dryer. Due to the flash, both fabrics look a bit lighter in this image, but as you can see the tea dyed cotton on the left looks pretty darned close to the color of the upholstery on the right. Certainly close enough for my purposes. And so easy!

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Jan Krentz Quilting Star

For my birthday this year I decided to treat myself to a Variable Hunter Star class with Jan Krentz. This was actually my second Jan Krentz class, as I was lucky enough to take her Love that Lone Star class at the Indiana Heritage Quilt Show (you can see a picture of that WIP here . . . in a posting from a year ago . . . in the same state of progress that it is in currently).

The workshop was put on by the Flying Geese Quilters Guild. Jan's name on their schedule of presenters for 2009 was one of the reasons I renewed my membership in this particular guild. As always the guild members were great to spend the day with (though I think I have gained a reputation as a class clown among some of them . . . I can't imagine how). Unlike the previous guild classes I've described (Joe Cunningham, Katie Pasquini Masopust, and Gwen Marston), the workshop did not take place in the lovely large classroom at Material Possessions Quilt Shop. Why? Because Material Possessions Quilt Shop is no more! They closed this past summer (SewCalGal has a lovely in memoriam). Think global, sew local: support your local quilt shop!

Jan is one of the best quilting instructors I have ever had the pleasure to observe. Like Katie Pasquini Masopust's workshop, every moment was accounted for. She used PowerPoint to describe a process, then demonstrated the process with everyone gathered around, and then went from student to student to observe their progress and offer suggestions. She paced the class well so that students could make it through one step before she repeated the PowerPoint/demo/individual attention routine for the next step. She also provided handouts that effectively supplemented her Hunter Star Quilts & Beyond book. You really get your money's worth in a Jan Krentz class. This was equally true of the multi-day Love that Lone Star class I took back in Indiana as it was of the five-hour Variable Hunter Star class I just took.

The big difference between the Love that Lone Star class and the Variable Hunter Star class is the focus. For both patterns, Jan has developed the most elegant piecing and cutting methods possible. To complete a Lone Star your focus is on precision. So Jan's Lone Star class was focused on all the different points in the quilt making process in which precision is key and how to improve that precision. For example, in the Lone Star class we spent quite a bit of time ensuring that we had a scant quarter inch seam allowance. In the Variable Hunter Star class, as Jan walked around and noticed some folks weren't sewing a quarter inch seam allowance, she brought out the special rulers to check and brought around thick strips of tape to use as guides. But it wasn't a focus of the class. It was just a Jan Krentz bonus.

The Variable Hunter Star strip piecing method Jan developed is INCREDIBLY forgiving. So the focus of this class is on how to use your tools most efficiently. For example, Jan had prepared a set of her 6.5" Fussy Cutter diamond-shaped rulers with markings and taped bumpers for the size blocks we made. Then she gave us a handout so we could doctor our own rulers the same way, or modify the doctoring for whatever size block we wanted to make. Using the doctored rulers made the key part of the Variable Hunter Star construction, the rotary cutting, so easy. It was even more elegant with the doctored ruler than with the instructions in the book.

Speaking of the book, Jan had a great suggestion. On the supply list for the class she recommended taking the book to an office supply store or copy store to have them cut off the spine and 3-hole-punch the book pages. Then put the book into a three-ring binder. At first, this seemed totally nuts. I mean, yes, the book would lay open flat while you're following instructions, but is that sufficient rationale for defacing a book (yes, some of us were more traumatized by the librarians in our lives than others)? In class she explained that you could rearrange the pages so the method you choose to use and the pattern you choose to follow are adjacent. Also, her handouts are designed to supplement the text, so they fit in different places among the book's pages. Finally, she said when she finds pictures of Hunter Star quilts or related topics, she puts them into the same three-ring binder. So she has a binder on Hunter Stars, a binder on Lone Stars, etc. Genius!

Jan is clearly a technophile, as her use of PowerPoint illustrates. She even had the insight to suggest that people who brought cameras take pictures of their hands while they were doing particularly tricky steps in the process. For example this is my self-portrait while making the first 45 degree cut of a strip set.

The following is my self-portrait while using the taped bumper on the 6.5" Fussy Cutter diamond-shaped ruler to cut an inch and a half wide strip at a 45 degree angle.
The woman I sat next to actually looked at the pictures she took on her digital camera to double check she was doing the right thing before cutting each new strip set. So not only will those pictures help her when she gets home, but they already helped her right there in class. I took this class for suggestions like this. I might never make another Variable Hunter Star quilt. But from now on I will always bring my digital camera to quilt classes to take pictures of tricky steps in the process. This is why Jan Krentz classes are worth taking even if your guild or quilt show organizer didn't pick a class subject that particularly interests you. You will come away with more techniques that apply throughout your quilting experience than from any other instructor.

In addition to the workshop, Jan presented a lecture and quilt show to the guild. The lecture was on Design Inspiration from Everyday Life. This was the same lecture I saw her present to the Bloomington Quilters Guild. This time her emphasis on political quilts stood out to me. She gave examples of historical artifacts depicting political acts, like the swearing in of a Scandinavian political office holder carved in wood. She also showed examples of quilts which made a political statement, like a signature quilt done in red and white stripes with white stars on blue, loosely arranged like an American flag.

Tangentially, she showed some slides of recipients of Quilts of Valor. She described a scene where recovering wounded service members would see the new quilts arriving and pull out the quits they received as if competing for who received the best quilt. Not only was this a subtle admonishment to people who do "charity" quilts to do their best work, but it was incredibly inspiring to hear how much these quilts are appreciated by their recipients. How many quilters do you know who have put their hearts into a quilt for a loved one and not received the appreciation they deserved? And here these young men and women, who have probably never met the quilter in person, show off their quilts with such pride.

Jan made a number of practical suggestions for transforming your inspiration into a quilt.
  • Determine the objective for your quilt. What do YOU want to get out of making this quilt?
  • Collect inspiration images. Then be sure to organize them. She sorts her images into folders with subjects such as texture, ocean, flowers, wildlife, and geometric shapes.
  • Once you have settled on a theme, research it. Don't just look at other quilts that have depicted the same theme. How has that subject matter been depicted in other media? In other cultures? Look beyond art, for example at scientific research.
  • Don't forget your theme at the quilting stage. Incorporate your theme into your quilting motifs. For example, a quilt with broderie perse appliqued dragon flies was quilted with a squiggly looping pattern that resembled dragonfly wings and dragonfly flight patterns.

Jan also made a number of practical suggestions about the quilt making process.
  • When determining the design details, don't neglect the background. While the rendering of the subject is important, the background can make or break a quilt.
  • Wool batting doesn't retain fold lines like cotton batting.
  • Change the thread color when you're quilting. It looks extremely impressive from the back.
  • Do not quilt the borders of a quilt more densely than the center or it will bulge. You can change the quilting pattern but not the density of quilting.

The trunk show included the quilts that recently returned from her solo show at the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum as well as the sample quilts from her forthcoming book, which is a follow up to Quick Star Quilts & Beyond. The quilts from the new book were gorgeous. For the most part they used striped fabric cut into 1/2 and 1/4 diamonds and sewn back together. The results are chevron patterned diamonds reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass designs. The quilts definitely made me want to buy the new book.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Mathematical Baby Quilt

I'm starting a quilt for the impending offspring of two math professors. I will be modifying a pattern from Mathematical Quilts by Diana Venters and Elaine Krajenke Ellison, a book originally recommended to me by my friend R.J. Trubitt. Given the fabrics in the above picture, can you guess on which mathematical concept the quilt pattern is based?

Huge thanks go to my friend Bridget for her very impressive fabric finding skills. She pulled the two key fabrics in this set from the depths of the flat fold stacks at M&L Fabrics in Anaheim. I should have taken a picture of these stacks so you can get an idea of how very impressive her fabric finding feat was.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Flying Geese Quilt Show

My quilt guild, The Flying Geese Quilters Guild, had their biannual Quilt Show this past weekend. It was out of sight! This guild is made up of some serious talent. There were no duds in this show, nosireebob.

While all the quilts that earned ribbons were awesome, I am particularly proud of the third place ribbon winner in the pieced bed sized quilt category: Bridget Paley.

This quilt was designed by Judy Niemeyer, with whom Bridget took a paper piecing class earlier this year. What impresses me the most is that she started and finished this king-sized quilt in under a year! That's perseverance for you. Bridget wasn't originally thinking of entering this quilt in the show, but we saw a quilt made from the same pattern at the Glendale Quilt Show, which had earned a ribbon for piecing. So she figured, what the heck? And what the heck lead to a ribbon!

I am also particularly proud of Vicki Hamilton Eldredge, who won a blue ribbon in the mixed technique small wall quilt category. A little birdie told us that during judging her quilt was a close competitor for best of show! Vicki made this to honor the marriage of her two friends. Originally, she planned to make it by machine, but life got in the way in the form of various ailments that kept her away from her machine and on the couch. Instead of giving up, she made the quilt entirely by hand. Again, that shows some serious perseverance. Like Bridget, Vicki originally had no intention of entering this quilt in the show. However, the recipient of the quilt insisted that she enter it. And that insistence lead to a blue ribbon!

The moral of the story: persevere and enter your quilts in shows!

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Thrice Thanked

I received my first thank you note via blog the other day. My friend Jonathan posted a picture and some lovely thoughts about the quilt I made for his daughter. This thanks was on top of an email and a post card. Thrice thanked! Makes me want to send his family a You're Welcome quilt. Instead I shall put that energy into completing more quilts to send out into the world.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Gamelan Quilt Completed

Remember that pink and green quilt that I used to demonstrate self-binding back in April? The one based on the Gamelan pattern from Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr's book The Modern Quilt Workshop: Patterns, Techniques, and Designs from the Funquilts Studio? Well I finally mailed it to its intended owner, so I can finally post more pictures of it. Clearly I was battling the shadows on my porch when I took these, but you get the idea. And I think the low angle of the sun really shows off all the quilting, which was a key part of this experience.

Pretty much every technique I used on this quilt is a first for me - piecing circles, free-motion machine quilting, quilting from the back, self-binding. I learned a lot making it. I used the Bernina Stitch Regulator to free-motion machine quilt.

First, I quilted from the back following the outlines of the large scale print (the pink fabric you can see in the self-binding pictures). I didn't quilt-from the back in the area where the pieced circles were on the front.

I quilted from the front for the circles, following the designs created by piecing symmetrical patterns together. All of the fabric is from Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr's fabric line except for the yellow print which is from Luana Rubin's Joie De Vivre line. Ironically, Rubin's symmetrical print lined up more easily than the two Ringle & Kerr prints, which were designed specifically for use in this pattern. I'm a huge fan of Ringle & Kerr's 813-411, the green small scale print that I used as the background on the top. You can piece the heck out of it and not see a single seam line.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Underground Railroad Doll Quilt Completed

I finally bound the Underground Railroad Doll Quilt. I used a Bernina Binder Attachment Accessory #84 and Foot #94. Well, technically, I borrowed my friend Bridget's and hers are a bit older and don't look exactly like the ones Bernina currently sells, but it's the same idea. Basically the accessory and attachment fold a strip of fabric as you sew it around the edge of the quilt, ostensibly sewing through the front and back of the binding at the same time. Bridget isn't a fan of using this on a quilt with corners; she finds it much easier on quilts with rounded corners. But taking the information I gleaned from a demonstration of Martelli's Kwik Bind Sytem at the Glendale Quilt Show, I thought I did a pretty good job on my corners for a first try.
This is the part where the end of the binding overlapped the beginning. I didn't try to do anything to fancy, just folded over the tail, lapped it, and sewed right over it. I hand stitched closed the folded over end along with the miters in all the corners.
I wouldn't say this results in contest entry worthy binding. But it certainly did a sufficient job for charity quilts or, with a little practice, gift quilts for non-quilt snobs. It was certainly faster and less time consuming than a traditional binding. Probably took about the same amount of time as self-binding, and might result in a more durable binding since you can use bias strips.
I don't know if I'll be shelling out the big bucks for a binding attachment set up any time soon, but I will certainly borrow Bridget's again.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

IQF Long Beach

I didn't experience my first IQF Long Beach nearly as intensively as I took on IQF Chicago a couple of years ago. I didn't take any classes or attend any events. Mostly I did the good ol' walk around the quilts and vendors. Following are a few close ups of the three quilts that I found particularly inspirational.

Spring in Japan by Akiko Kawata of Osaka, Japan. Machine and hand appliqued, machine pieced, and machine quilted.

The Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., inspired me to translate the overwhelming beauty of cherry blossoms into a quilt. That quilt is still in the development phase, but Akiko Kawata executed a beautiful, abstracted rendition of the subject matter that is certainly along the lines I am considering. In particular, I am fascinated by the idea of representing the cherry blossoms with either single circles or circles for each petal. Here the maker used single perfect circles in a variety of fabrics to represent cherry blossoms.

Homecoming by Marlene Shea. Hand appliqued, photo transfer, hand quilted.

I find photo transfer problematic in quilting. When it is good, it is very, very good, but when it is bad, it is horrid. Here Marlene Shea used transfers of antique portrait photographs to fill the windows in traditional house blocks, which she then alternated with traditional primitive appliqued willow tree blocks, all made with reproduction fabrics. To top off the "traditionalness," she hand pieced, hand appliqued, and hand quilted the piece. So the photo transfer technique is the only contemporary aspect of the quilt. Shifting this technique out of its usual context and into the milieu of reproduction quilting made this quilt stand out from the rest.

People's Park, Nanning China by Martha David of Spencerport, NY from the Hoffman Challenge.

I'm a sucker for fish, particularly koi. This block from Martha David's entry into the Hoffman Challenge is no bigger than 8 x 10 inches. She captured the movement of a school of fish as well as the shapes of individual fish in amazing detail on such a small scale.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009


I have a confession to make. I hate binding. Not like I hate doing my taxes (i.e., so much that I pay someone else to do it), but it is my least favorite part of quilting. I have heard people who extol the virtues of binding, equating it with the final stretch of a marathon or tying ribbon on a package. I don't run unless chased and I use gift bags for a reason. My relationship to binding is best summed up by this quote from Yoda,
Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.
To face my fear of binding I took a class at IQF Chicago 2008 with Kathy Kansier called Quilts with Great Edges. We covered at least fourteen different binding techniques or edge treatments, including the humble wrapped or self-bound hemmed edge.While the wrapped or self-bound hemmed edge may seem humble it is nothing if not logical. When non-quilters come into my studio and see a quilt that has been quilted and is waiting to be bound, many have spontaneously said, "So you're going to wrap the fabric from the back to the front, roll it over a couple of times and sew it down?" Knowing nothing about quilting or sewing, they can see the logic of self-binding.

But the fact that it is logical does not mean it is simple. I discovered this when trying to self-bind my Gamelan quilt, based on the pattern from Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr's book The Modern Quilt Workshop: Patterns, Techniques, and Designs from the Funquilts Studio.
The trick with self-binding is that your quilting determines the edge. If you were doing a standard binding, you'd just hack off any quilting done beyond the squared up edge. But with a self-binding, if you didn't stop quilting at the same place all along the edge, then you'll have some unsewing to do. This issue is compounded when you quilt from the back. Quilting from the back is quilting with the backside of your quilt facing up usually in order to follow a pattern on the backing fabric. That's what I did on the Gamelan quilt. I used a large scale print on the back (the pink fabric - which is from Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr's fabric line, as were almost all the fabrics in this quilt), so I could outline quilt from the back.

My backing (the pink fabric) was about four inches larger on each side than my quilt top (the green fabric). And, despite my efforts, was not particularly evenly aligned with the front during the basting process. So on some edges I'd quilted beyond the edge of the top and on other edges I barely made it to the edge of the top. I ended up making a chalk line on the top where one would normally cut if one were squaring up a top for a traditional binding. Then I ripped out the quilting stitches outside the chalk line.
At that point I could trim the backing and the batting to the edge of the quilting by laying a ruler along the edge of the quilting and folding the top back over the ruler and out of the way. [Can you tell I took this picture after I had already trimmed what needed trimming? Can you tell I need a manicure? That reminds me of a hand piecing class I took with Jinny Beyer in which she used this neat enlarging projector so she could put her hands underneath it and the projector would enlarge the image onto a screen. She said this was great for showing a classroom full of people how to hand piece, but it was not so great the day after she'd been working in the garden. So the next time you're envious of Jinny Beyer's quilting talent and fabric empire, just take solace in the fact that she too is in need of a manicure.]I trimmed the top to an inch wider on all sides from the back and batting.I did a test run on a scrap of paper to determine how much I could cut off the corner to reduce bulk without leaving raw edges exposed. Then I trimmed the corners of the top, so when they're folded over to the back they form miters. I folded the edge of the top in half and ironed it. Then I folded the corners toward the center and ironed them.
Not having the greatest of confidence in my ironing, I basted down the corners so they would be more easy to form into miters when I got to them. This worked well and the basting stitches came out easily after the binding was sewn on.
I folded the edge of the top to the back of the quilt as I sewed the edge down. Finally I hand sewed a few stitches in each corner to secure the miters, which is a heckuva lot less hand sewing than the standard binding method.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Diane Ricks at 2009 Glendale Quilt Show

Yesterday at the Glendale Quilt Show I examined the quilt that won First Place for Innovative Quilt and found it was done by Diane Ricks. I took Microwave Dyeing for Cotton and my cousins took Needle Felting with Diane Ricks at IQF Chicago in 2008. In fact, all the non-sparkly hand dyed fabric in my Gwen Marston Liberated Stars is from that dyeing workshop. We even did shibori in the microwave!

Ms. Ricks just happened to be passing by, so I took her picture with her quilt. She was so proud! The quilt is named Ghost Dance. Ms. Ricks described it like so:
The book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee inspired me to make this series of small quilts joined into a triptych as honor to their memory. It is dye painted, free hand drawn, and screen printed on rusted cotton with free motion quilting featuring images of the fallen warriors in the quilting.
I wonder if she intended the complementary color scheme of the orange from her quilt set off by the blue of the background drapery. Genius!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Gwen Marston Unleashed

A few Fridays ago I took a fun class on Liberated Stars with Gwen Marston, a quilt historian and renowned quilter in her own right. She has to be one of the most prolific authors on the subject of quilts with both popular and scholarly publications.

The workshop was put on by the Flying Geese Quilters Guild. Gwen's name on their schedule of presenters (along with Katie Pasquini Masopust's) was one of the reasons I joined this particular guild. As always the guild members were friendly and interesting and just so darned fun to spend a day with. Also as always, the workshop took place in the lovely large classroom at Material Possessions Quilt Shop. Think global, sew local: support your local quilt shop!

Unlike Katie Pasquini Masopust's workshop, in which every moment was accounted for and there were exercises and group critique sessions, Gwen Marston's class was almost entirely unstructured. Recounting the instructions given would make the class seem much less interesting than it was. Really it was about spending the day picking Gwen Marston's brain.If you want to make a Liberated Star quilt, get thee to the library and pick up Gwen Marston's out of print masterpiece Liberated Quiltmaking. It is also part of The Parts Department section of Collaborative Quilting. She mentioned that a forthcoming book, possibly Freddy & Gwen Collaborate Again: Freewheeling Twists on Traditional Quilt Designs, would have updated instructions for many of her previously published design/methods including Liberated Stars. My friend R.J. recently wrote that she found the previous book's precursor Collaborative Quilting inspiring.I must admit, I checked Liberated String Quilts out of the well-stocked Monroe County Public Library in Bloomington, Indiana, last year and found myself vaguely dissatisfied. I didn't understand Gwen Marston's approach. I wasn't open to the idea of looking at a series of historic quilts and developing axioms about their creation. I guess I struggle with the idea of reducing these historic quilts to "patterns" for the modern quilter. This is not a reflection on Gwen, but a reflection on the quilting-industrial complex's obsession with kit-able units. Her current book Ideas and Inspirations: Abstract Quilts in Solids, which she published outside the traditional quilt book publishing establishment, seems to be the truest to her sensibility - no "patterns," no "lessons," no "projects." Just images of beautiful quilts intended to inspire. The product description on Amazon (which I believe is in Gwen's own words) sums it up nicely:
This is a book for grownup quilters. It's a book for the many accomplished quilters who are not looking for yet another project book with pages of detailed elementary instructions on how to make someone else's quilt.
Seeing Gwen Marston in action and hearing her stories addressed my concerns and converted me to her fan club.While piecing our liberated stars we talked about Gwen's favorite quilters. Of course she discussed Mary Schafer, about whom Gwen has authored two books Mary Schafer, American Quilt Maker and the currently out of print Mary Schafer and Her Quilts. Additionally she mentioned Susan McCord and Emily Adams (I might have written down the latter incorrectly - but The Quilt Index does have a number of quilts under the name Emily Adams Hubbell). She talked a lot about Susan McCord's work, noting that it is housed in the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan. She was especially taken by McCord's use of four unique applique borders on one quilt as well as her use of three, two, or even one border. She specifically mentioned a turkey tracks quilt by McCord with one applique border with sensational, exquisite, detailed applique that probably could not be sustained for four borders. She liked the idea of exerting the same amount of effort your might put into all four borders, but concentrating it all on one amazing border.Her favorite style of American quilts are folk art quilts. She started making pieced traditional quilts. She said, "As most young quilters do, I thought I knew a lot about making quilts." [As a young quilter I don't take offense, particularly as I don't think I know much at all about making quilts -- not to mention my whole Buddhist beginner's mind approach, but this isn't about my issues.] Through extensive research into actual early quilts she discovered that quilts didn't conform to the 1970s ideal of the traditional quilt. Real early quilts (as opposed to idealized traditional quilts) had borders chopped off, borders that were not the same, points that didn't match, fewer than four borders, and all sorts of characteristics that "traditional quilters" would categorize as flaws.In studying folk art traditions including but also beyond early American quilts, Marston noticed some universal folk art characteristics including lack of set patterns, frequent color substitution, and the free placement of elements. She specifically focused on the transmission of design elements among craftspeople, the appearance of design elements across cultures and media, and the transmission of wisdom through folk art. For example, the traditional design elements in kilims from Anatolia were passed down from weaver to weaver the same way traditional quilt block designs like churn dash were passed down from quilter to quilter. People then interpreted these design elements as they saw fit. Some design elements appear across cultures and media. For example, she found flying geese designs in a kilim as well as an Uzbek ceremonial horse blanket. Folk art tends to convey wisdom from one generation to the next. For example she has an example of Ghanaian applique which conveys parenting advice, "Don't tell a child not to eat hot peppers. He will find that out soon enough." Another Ghanaian applique depicts a man on the ground lying on top of a gun with a leopard on his chest. The moral of that story, "If you shoot the leopard and do not kill the leopard, it would have been better not to shoot the leopard."

She admonished the collected quilters that Picasso wasn't worried about coloring within the lines. In other words, precision does not equal artistic success. A good lesson for quilters, young and old.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Darjeeling Limited: Border Numero Uno - Part Numero Uno

This is partly the story of the first border of my medallion quilt inspired by the Wes Anderson film The Darjeeling Limited. It is also partly a song of praise for Jinny Beyer's book Quiltmaking by Hand: Simple Stitches, Exquisite Quilts. Don't let the title fool you, this book is about so much more than making quilts by hand. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is the most comprehensive resource on how to draft pieced quilts from blocks to borders. The book applies the tips and tricks of drafting to quilting. This can be intimidating to the math averse. But she explains her math thoroughly so it's not too difficult to follow along at home.

Jinny Beyer (who is totally one of those people whose first and last names you have to say together) is known for, among other things, her medallion quilts. In fact her quilt "Ray of Light," one of the One Hundred Quilts of the 20th Century, brought medallion quilts to the attention of the quilting revival of the 1970s. So it's no surprise that her book goes into great detail describing how to draft the kind of pieced borders that appear so frequently in medallion quilts.

Now, as quilt historians like Gwen Marston will show you, pre-20th century quilters didn't get overly fussy about planning their pieced borders to make sure that the same portion of the design falls in exactly the same place at each of the corners of the quilt. Often borders just ended where they ended. But as a challenge to myself I wanted to see if I could piece a border where the design did fall exactly the same place at each of the corners of the quilt. I also thought it would be easier to test drive a pieced border on a small quilt rather than a large quilt. So, while the effort will be ENTIRELY lost on the infant recipient and their parents, I am doing it anyway . . . for me . . . for the experience.


If you'd like to follow along, turn to pages 150-156 in Quiltmaking by Hand: Simple Stitches, Exquisite Quilts. First, the unfinished size of my center (as measured through the centers of the center, not along the edges) is 24 inches long by 12 1/4 inches wide. That makes the finished size of my center 23 1/2 by 11 3/4 inches.Second, the border unit looks like this. It is a non-directional symmetrical, square unit (though it will be pieced out of quarter square triangles, because what is life without a challenge). Because it is a non-directional symmetrical unit the edge of a full unit or the edge of a half unit could fall in the center.

Corner Unit
Designing a pieced corner unit seems really difficult until you draw the two possible endings (full units or half units) at right angles to one another. Then you just play around with how those units would continue. For example, if the pieced borders end with a full unit, the corner might look like this.If the pieced borders end with a half unit, the corner might look like this.

Determining Border Unit Size

Beware: this way there be mathematics!

Getting a pieced border to fit the center of a quilt is THE challenge of pieced borders (unless you take the traditional pre-20th century "wherever it lands, there shall the border end approach"). How many border units will fit along the sides of the quilt? About how big would you like each border unit to be? In my case, I'd like each border unit to be about 2 inches (my border unit is square so the width and height will be the same). Let's start with the shorter finished dimension of my center: 11 3/4 inches. If I divide 11 3/4 inches by 2 inches, I find that 5 7/8 units fit along the short side of my center. 7/8 unit is not going to cut it. So I can either go down to 5 units along the short side or up to 6 units along the short side. Either way, the size of each unit will have to deviate from my ideal size of 2 inches in order for the pieced strip to end with a whole or half unit.

Let's imagine I want 5 units along the short side of my center. If I divide 11 3/4 inches by 5 units, I find each unit will have a finished size of 2 7/20 inches.

Let's imagine I want 6 units along the short side of my center. If I divide 11 3/4 inches by 6 units, I find each unit will have a finished size of 1 23/24 inches.

Now, neither of those measurements are going to show up on your standard ruler. And neither of them are my ideal 2 inch unit size. So how do you pick between the two? In a rectangular quilt like mine, it's easy: see which unit size fits best along the longer side of the quilt.

Let's imagine I want 5 units along the short side of my center. We determined that the finished unit size would be 2 7/20 inches. If I divide the finished length of the center's longer side, 23 1/2 inches, by the finished unit size, 2 7/20 inches, I find that exactly 10 units fit along the longer side of the center.

Let's imagine I want 6 units along the short side of my center. We determined that the finished unit size would be 1 23/24 inches. If I divide the finished length of the center's longer side, 23 1/2 inches, by the finished unit size, 1 23/24 inches, I find that exactly 12 units fit along the longer side of the center.

Well, huh, both ways it works out to be a whole number of units. All things being equal 1 23/24 inches is closer to 2 inches than 2 7/20 inches, so I'm going with a unit size of 1 23/24 inches, which results in 6 units along the short sides and 12 units along the long sides.

Now, this is not the end of my problem. I have the finished length of the hypotenuse of a quarter-square triangle. So how do you draft a template for a quarter-square triangle whose finished hypotenuse is 1 23/24? Now, part of me wants to skip it and just draft one with a 2 inch hypotenuse. But over the twelve units of the long side, that would be off by half an inch. If you were a drafting rockstar like Jinny Beyer, you'd probably plug the decimal version of 1 23/24 into your little CAD program and churn out a template.But I just used ye olde pencile, papere, and rulere to draft a 1 23/24 inch square. Then I drew a line 1/4 inch outside one edge. Then I drew lines through the corners of the square through the external line. Measuring the distance between the intersection of the diagonals with the external line gave me the length of the square I would have to cut to make quarter-square triangles with 1 23/24 inch hypotenuses: 2 1/2 inches.

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