Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ballet Costumes as Quilt Inspiration

Check out these Costumes for brigands in Fokine's ballet Daphnis and Chloé designed by Léon Bakst in 1912 for a Serge Pavlovich Diaghilev's Ballets Russes performance in Paris. They're part of an exhibit on Diaghilev at the Victoria and Albert Museum. They are calling me to transform them into quilt patterns.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fibonacci Baby Quilt

If you saw the bunny rabbits among the fabrics for the mathematical baby quilt, you may have recalled that the 13th century Italian mathematician Leonardo da Pisa, a.k.a. Fibonacci (son of Bonacci), described the hypothetical birth pattern of rabbits resulting in the series of numbers 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 and so on. This has come to be known as the Fibonacci sequence. The pattern I'm adapting from Mathematical Quilts by Diana Venters and Elaine Krajenke Ellison is based on the Fibonacci sequence.

For the original pattern, you'll have to check out the book. I've modified the original pattern by extending the Fibonacci sequence from 1, 1, 2, 3, 5 to 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8. The original quilt without borders finishes 22 inches square. By adding another number in the sequence, the center without borders finishes 38 inches square. This makes the quilt a reasonable size for a baby quilt. Additionally, if your fabric didn't shrink too much from the standard 44 inches wide, you will be able to cut the pieces for the center with very little wasted fabric. Venters and Ellison suggest purchasing one yard of each fabric for the center. However, even extending the sequence of the quilt, with my cutting plan you can make this center with 22.5 inches (5/8 yard) of each fabric (that's leaving an extra inch for clean up cuts).

The second, and I think more significant, modification is in the construction method. Venters and Ellison suggest something approximating a template approach, cutting out each individual piece and sewing them back together again. I developed a strip piecing construction method that makes short work of constructing this quilt. In my example, the dark fabric is blue and the light fabric is green with rabbits.

Layer the dark and light fabric together so you can cut strips from both fabrics with one cut.

Make a clean up cut to make an even edge. Cut a 1 1/2 inch strip from both the dark and light fabrics from selvage to selvage.

Cut a 2 1/2 inch wide strip from both the dark and light fabrics from selvage to selvage.

Cut a 3 1/2 inch wide strip from both the dark and light fabrics from selvage to selvage.

Cut a 5 1/2 inch wide strip from both the dark and light fabrics from selvage to selvage.

Cut a 8 1/2 inch wide strip from both the dark and light fabrics from selvage to selvage.

Sew the dark 8 1/2 inch strip to the light 5 1/2 inch strip.

Sew the light 8 1/2 inch strip to the dark 5 1/2 inch strip.

Sew the dark 3 1/2 inch strip to the light 2 1/2 inch strip.

Sew the light 3 1/2 inch strip to the dark 2 1/2 inch strip.

Sew the dark 1 1/2 inch strip to the light 1 1/2 inch strip.

Press all seam allowances toward the dark fabric.

Stack strip sets of the same size so you can cut two units with each cut. The seam allowances are pressed in opposite directions, so they should nest perfectly. From each strip set cut 2 8 1/2 inch units, 2 5 1/2 inch units, 2 3 1/2 inch units, 2 2 1/2 inch units, and 2 1 1/2 inch units.

Arrange alternating colors appropriately.

Assemble units into 4-patch blocks.
Assemble 4-patch blocks into 16-patch blocks.
Then complete the center.

You may notice that between cutting the units from the strip sets and assembling the quilt, I did a little machine embroidery on the blue pieces. I embroidered numbers and dots that will be connected by quilting stitches to render various mathematical ideas related to the Fibonacci sequence. For example, Pascal's triangle, polygonal numbers, branching patterns, pathways, and the Golden Rectangle.

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

IQF Long Beach 2010

The International Quilt Festival in Long Beach is here again. While I haven't found much time for quilting lately, I did make time to walk through the quilts and vendors at IQF. It was much more impressive than last year.

One of the neat things at quilt shows like IQF is that sometimes the quilt makers will stand next to their work and answer questions, sign autographs, or pose for pictures. Here is Rita Verroca from Westlake Village, California, with her quilt Roses of Shenandoah, which won first place for traditional applique in the International Quilt Association's Quilts: A World of Beauty competition in 2009. Rita hand embroidered, hand quilted, hand appliqued, and hand pieced her original interpretation of a Mariner's Compass pattern. She deserves to stand proudly next to her beautiful quilt.

Crazy About Ballet by Linda Steele of Park Orchards, Victoria, Australia, won first place for embellished quilts in the International Quilt Association's Quilts: A World of Beauty competition in 2009. The hand embroidered blocks depict scenes from different ballets. While I'm not that serious a fan of ballet, I have a quilt in the design phase that would involve a number of appliqued and embroidered blocks which might benefit from a similar setting.

Illuminated Alphabet by Zena Thorpe of Chatsworth, California, won third place for innovative applique in the International Quilt Association's Quilts: A World of Beauty competition in 2009.
Apparently, Zena Thorpe is something of quilting phenomenon here in California, and given the amazing detail in this hand appliqued, hand embroidered, and hand quilted piece, I am not surprised.

Rose Hughes, a fellow member of the Flying Geese Quilt Guild, made Journey-Mythos: Follow the Yellow Brick Road which was part of a juried exhibit of quilts by members of Quilts on the Wall, an art quilting group based in Long Beach. She did a presentation at our guild on color last year. Her trunk show afterward was filled with abstract landscapes encrusted with beads.
About a quarter of the quilts at this show were antique quilts. The following are from the exhibit America Collects Quilts: International Quilt Festival Antique Quilts. This one is a four block rose and coxcomb made entirely by hand by an unknown quilter around 1880. I like how a quilt this large, 65 3/4 by 85 inches, is made up essentially of four blocks and two borders. If you put it that way, making a quilt so large doesn't seem so daunting.

Unlike most antique quilts, the maker of this hand pieced and quilted Lone Star quilt from 1845 is known: Mary Mern. She even gave it a title: Silk Stars. Heck, if I'd hand pieced that many diamonds together, I would have titled and signed my work, too. My personal interest in this quilt is the setting. I've got some Lone Star aspirations, but the trick is always how to make this inherently square pattern into a rectangle to fit a bed. This quilt measures 87 1/2 by 101 1/2 inches.

Star of Stars, circa 1845, another amazing quilt whose maker is unknown, collects some great details of early quiltmaking that I particularly enjoy. First, Jinny Beyer and her precision drafting be damned! When this quilter's gorgeous diamond sashing didn't end perfectly at the intersections, she just hacked it off. But that doesn't mean she didn't care about details. Look at this amazing scalloped binding which follows the curves of the border print . . . Jinny Beyer would love a border print like this . . . well, except for the mismatched print in the corner.
Jinny would also love the fussy cut center of the Lone Star.
This quilt was made by an unknown maker around 1800 using a huge variety of fabrics colored with natural dyes.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Senior Thread

Recently I received a fabulous package from Mom containing some fiber finds from her most recent tag sale adventures. In addition to some lovely fabric, she sent me a whole bunch of thread. Much of it was 100% cotton. Based on color alone I would definitely consider quilting with the cotton threads. But I'm concerned about the age of the thread. How can I tell if I should use it?

I'm not just being ageist. Somewhere in my quilting education a wise woman said that thread can dry out and lose its strength over time, so beware of using great-grandma's thread collection on your quilt. Much depends on the quality of the storage. Given that this was a Floridian tag sale find, I suspect there was plenty of moisture in the air where this thread was stored. As you can see, much of it is wound on beautiful wooden spools, so even if the thread itself is no good, I'll certainly use the spools for winding handmade trims and whatnot.

I'm not going to shell out $42 for ASTM's Standard Test Methods for Sewing Threads, but the description shows that they measure colorfastness, shrinkage, strength and elongation, loop strength, and knot strength among other properties. The peanut gallery at Askville seems to favor the pull until it breaks test. Elphaba over at favors the bobbin winding test. If I were super cool, I would break out a microscope and check out the quality of the thread under 60x magnification like Debbie Colgrove over at

First, I did a snap test like the peanut gallery at Askville suggested. I wound the ends around my index fingers like I was preparing to floss my teeth. I put my index fingers together. Then I moved my index fingers apart as fast as I could. I did this with a few different strands of the tag sale thread and a few strands of brand spanking new thread. Same results. So far, go old thread!

Second, I wound a bobbin at full speed from one of the spools of old thread. No problemo.

Finally, I used the thread to finish the edges of some flannel to make reusable wipes. I sewed at CRAZY high speeds. I don't usually sew that fast, so I'm not sure if it was the thread's fault or mine, but I did experience a few thread breaks over the course of maybe 10 bobbin's worth of sewing. I washed the resulting wipes on the sanitary cycle of my washing machine and dried it on high. No color ran and there was no discernible shrinkage.

Final verdict: yay, old thread!

For more information on thread, check out YLI's A Thread of Truth (PDF) which I discovered via Pin Tangle.

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