Monday, May 23, 2016

Improvisation on Shoeman's Puzzle Quilt finish

Shoeman's Puzzle improv quilt 88 x 90 inches hand quilted 
June of 2015 DC Modern Quilt Guild hosted Denyse Schmidt for a quilting improvisation workshop in which I was fortunate to enroll and wrote about last year. (follow this link to read that report)  She gave us a traditional pattern lesson then we were instructed in how to play with the shapes and develop the blocks in a free form way. Improvising with the wedges of two tones of the same color to form a playful modern look with an old fashioned repeating block design. I chose two shades of orange for my quilt lesson.
the traditional Shoeman's Puzzle blocks before the improvisation began 

Denyse talking about the designs

layout becomes the next decision, these are in the traditional star or flower layout 

We spent the whole day working and sharing and reviewing our progress as about 20 quilters improvised with their colors. I tried adding a little magenta with pattern and was relieved to get away from the all orange blocks but in the end decided I needed to keep to the orange theme for a finish that was true to the intention I set out with to make a new orange quilt. I completed the quilt with rows of pie shapes going this way and that dark in light and light inside dark alternating in rows. It took a long time to get it laid up and then figure out how to sew them together without messing up the order I had chosen. Thanks to some ones' picture online I discovered marking with numbered pieces of masking tape would help me organize the trip from design wall in my bedroom to the sewing machine in the living room and back to the wall. In the end I messed it up but decided I liked how a couple of my rows got flipped over and went butterfly like, instead of march stepped in the same direction. 

Then the finish got a couple of sashes worked into the rows and ripped out later because it again seemed to my eye to distract from the repeating design feature and the way the areas come together. See the image below for the strips running through about one third and two thirds of the way across from side to side.  
As it was laying on the bed I figured it was the wrong design to have the rows interrupted by these long narrow strips. It took a while to sink in but eventually I knew I had to rip them out.    

all sewn together on my 221 Singer Featherweight
It's not a lot of fun to rip such long seams out but it is more fun that leaving a design you don't like with months of hand quilting ahead. It just made sense to me to rearrange these rows without the separations. Once the top was completed I added long slanting strips about 6 inches wide to the edge to make the quilt top a little larger to fit the bed. 

Next I launched into the back design. I chose a reflection of the top's design by making a giant block of the traditional Shoeman's puzzle to cover the back using light shades of white. I chose two white prints on off white fabrics to give a to rest from the orange when all that orange is just too much. This means the quilt can be flipped over and all you see is one an orange binding on a simple white on white design with big stitch quilting. Making the back so large required clearing the living room floor to cut and assemble these huge puzzle pieces into a quilt sized block and then I had to add a 5 inch border all around to make it big enough to cover the quilt top. Again I cut the shapes for this bed sized block free hand on the floor from yardage. That was a real challenge but it went off smoothly once I made up my mind to work it out. 

Here is the top with the batting and the backing spray basted in place ready to begin hand quilting. 
On the floor I marked my quilting guide lines by using the Hera marker and following the edges of each of the lighter orange shapes about a quarter inch inside the seams. Quilting began with size #8 ecru pearl cotton thread and my big # 6 crewel embroidery needle and my favorite thick goat skin thimbles. 

 crease marks the Hera marker leaves on fabric as my guide to quilt.
Beginning in the center I use a standing hoop simply to keep the quilt elevated so I can put one hand under the quilt and the other on top to do the quilting. It took a long time to finish quilting this big quilt and once I was done I realized that this white line pattern wasn't enough quilting. Eventually I decided to add some orange pearl cotton #8 to the darker orange parts and chose to contrast the sharply angled lines with circles of various sizes all over the quilt. Phase two of the quilting moved along slowly but the end was in sight, making it seem a little faster. 

The back of the quilt looks like these detail shots above with just some big stitch quilted white lines and some orange circles... the label is a tribute to Denyse Schmidt for the class and all the inspiration I have collected from her workshop and her book. It's been a slow process to complete this quilt, mostly because I hand quilt but every stitch was a delight even the ones I had to pull out. Now I have it washed up and dried in the dryer for that nice crinkled soft touch of a new quilt on our bed today in the cold damp it's a very rewarding creation. 
detail of the turned back edge with lots of crinkle. 

finished on the bed ready to use

Friday, May 6, 2016

Appliqué Quilt finish

Applique Quilt finish 46 x 59 inches all cotton.
This is the next new thing, appliqué pieces on top of an improvisational patchwork quilt top. I was inspired by several quilts and people to try this. Applique is hand sewing technique which has been used for centuries to decorate, using small shapes of colored fabric applied on top of a bigger surface. I used a simple big background improvisation and laid rounded squares on top with a layer of cotton batting in between to add extra puff to the attached applique pieces.

In this image you see the rounded squares and cotton batting cut and applied with long quilting pins to the background hanging on my design wall. I really enjoyed selecting fabrics and arranging my design before sitting down to baste stitch them in place firmly enough to finish sewing them down. The idea of making these rounded squares came from a hash tag on Instagram last year #squircles a word I had never seen but it seemed to be originating from the work of designer Carolyn Friedlander. She who advances the concept of "slow sewing" aka hand sewing and enjoying the meditation that ensues as you work stitch by stitch around a shape. 
I don't know who came up with the word and I am not sure I want to endorse it but square-circles mashed into "squircles" is kind of fun to say and it does make describing this sort of shape easy. Wonder if Websters will pick that up? I had hoped to join in a recent workshop on applique quilting with Carolyn my Washington DC Modern Quilt Guild held but I missed the entry time and had to settle for a great trunk show and talk given afterwards. It was fun because I got to see her and her quilts in person and compare my work to what I had seen on Instagram in her photos of these quilts. I was very surprised to discover I made most of my squircles many times larger than hers. She showed us the Aerial Grove quilt that really got me thinking I should try this, seen below. It's a series of squircles in almost a rainbow of colors which were selected very thoughtfully from a collection of 303 Kona Solids then sewn on to long blocks. Her squircles are about two to three inches in diameter. 

 The whole aerial grove quilt has these appliqued long blocks sewn together then surrounded by a low value patchwork improvisational composition to create a field around the rows of bold colored shapes. See a smaller version below.

Here in this last quilt we see a big collection of her shapes that are hard to name but very beautiful together as a series. She uses a very thickly machine quilted back ground to contrast her hand applique pieces. She gave us a tip I had to try when I got home about packing quilts. She folds them on the bias rather than squared to reduce the chance of making permanent crease marks in the quilt. The fabric is less likely to hold a crease when folded and stored on the bias and each time you unfold it you can refold in new places on the whole quilt to reduce fiber wear and tear.

I chose to hand tie the center of each of my applique pieces to secure the extra layer of batting inside the shapes. I was concerned that when washing that they might shift or even curl up inside and come out of the dryer with balls of batting wadded up. On the really big ones I added four ties. I big or long stitch quilted around each applique squircle and used a winding line to quilt the background. 

 These three images blown up by clicking on them will show you the overall quilting lines that wind in three rows back and forth over the surface. All hand quilted. I used a shirt striping from Denyse Schmidt, that I had been hoarding, for the binding. It was to bring all those darker sections together with the and frame the whole design with a little more patterning. I selected solid, striped, checked, tartan and doted fabrics for a more masculine quilt. All of the improvisation background and binding were sewn on my 1935 Singer #221 Featherweight portable sewing machine.

 It was a fun project and I learned a lot along the way about applique patches as with any new technique I feel like I could do it better next time. I would select smaller pieces to apply and do them on smaller blocks before I sew them together as a finished top. That will require a more planning than I did for this spur of the moment project. Since this is a nap sized quilt and I worked the applique pieces around the edges it went pretty well but I would have been easier to do this in sections, even perhaps in long strips like Carolyn did on her Aerial Grove quilt top.

Stacking pieces is another applique technique I would like to attempt for a future project. Shapes on top of shapes seems like it would be fun. In this quilt I decided to keep it simple and thought this form of applique piece, the rounded square or the squared off circle, brought to mind the shaped color field paintings and sculptures of a modern artist I admire, who recently died, Ellsworth Kelly. If you don't know Ellsworth Kelly's work yet, I suggest you look him up and try to find one in a museum because they are so wonderful in their simplicity of form and powerful colors! What an inspiration his work is for this modern quilter. From a recent exhibition at National Gallery of Art his printed shapes floating on the walls. He has other works in the free museums of Washington, DC

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Fan Improvisation on a rainbow. Quilt finish

This is the completed Improv Fan Quilt which has been a long time coming.

I began with a request from Jessie Aller for some improv blocks for a DC Modern Quilt Guild charity project she was putting together in 2014  for a member named Angela. It was simple rectangles of mixed fabrics building a block using a scrappy theme. After I made several I decided it might be fun to try and make a bunch of these blocks to use as fabric in my own quilt.
My new blocks would be in the colors of the rainbow because our apartment is flooded with these spectrum every sunny morning and lots of quilters are really into "rainbow" as their color theme, I wanted to try my own version but I wanted to do it with black as my background like the Amish quilts I like. It was in part a reaction to all the gray and white used by many modern quilters. They rarely choose black to work into a quilt design. The bold colors of Amish and Mennonite quilts really appeal to my eye and they are usually dark and have black or dark blue as a ground. 
gratuitous chicken shot taken at the Zenzendorf Hermitage Pitman PA

Back in 2006/2007 I went to a retreat and for an artist residency to a magical place in the mountains of Pennsylvania called the Hermitage founded and run and created entirely by the Zenzendorf Brothers who have a huge collection of early American log buildings filled with all sorts of tools, furniture and implements of farm life circa 1800's from the many farms around their Pennsylvania Dutch valley. In the oldest house there was a sort of loft room with beds piled high with antique quilts. At the Hermitage they used no electricity and candles or oil lanterns (flashlights) under the stars.  A shower house with water from the well and a propane gas tank to heat the water and run a refrigerator were the only modern comfort luxuries. It was such fun to be there and In the 1747 reconstructed Moravian house (see image below) I discovered this antique fan quilt. I got a snapshot of it on the bed in the loft where I slept under it one chilly autumn night. The bed was antique too with no box spring just ropes holding the lumpy mattress off the floor. 

When I began I wasn't sure how I would use my rainbow blocks this row of colors with black edge and solid strips was an early sketch and it helped to keep count of how many improv squares of each color I had completed and how they looked as a group.

This shows one idea I played with before I moved on to add a magenta to this spectrum and then came to the conclusion I wanted to do a 2015 year of curved piecing in my quilts. I looked around for design ideas and realized that I would like to try a fan quilt like this antique crazy pieced fan quilt from The Zenzendorf Hermitage which I slept under years ago. I took the fan idea and built my blocks to be my color fabric in a curved pieced design using the black as background.
Cut glass crystals hang in my windows where they cast spectrum all over our living room in the morning when the sun rises. I took careful note of the order of the colors to do my layout then forgot it in the end as I split the colors up to place the orange near the center.
Rainbow lighting on the White house to celebrate Marriage Equality decision by Supreme Court last summer was just one of the many reminders about rainbows last year.
I made this rope bowl for a charity auction early on in the year which pushed me to create more blocks in more colors of the rainbow after the orange and blue ones I did for the guild quilt. 
It was challenging to cut and piece so many small curves my fan block size is 8" finished with the colored fabric having so many seams to sew over in danger of being chewed by the feed dog... By the time eight fans of each color were pieced I ran out of steam and decided it was big enough to be a nice nap sized quilt and laid them on the wall and pieced them together in a diagonal design that shows off the rainbow effect. 66" square is the finished size.  

I used pins to make each fan, that helped keep the colored improv seams under control as I rounded the curves. Then I got a number made and began experimenting with how to assemble the fan blocks.

Lots of ways to put them together with the black background were considered but in the end I chose to do the diagonal layout and save the stars for another quilt top design. 
The view across the 2012-13 English Paper Pieced Rose-Star quilt to the wall that holds my quilts in progress. You see on my design wall an early layout of the shapes. I had two shapes from my curved cuts pieced with matching curved black grounds. 

Once I got the fan top together I wanted to use the traditional fan quilting pattern to do my quilting on this project and I chose rainbow pearl cotton size 8 thread in colors as close to the row as possible.
 I don't have a great source for pearl cotton threads anywhere locally and I don't like to buy by mail order due to the high cost of shipping. I did it once and at $13 for a single spool it is just too high a cost so I continue to hunt for shops that sell pearl cotton #8 in a wide range of colors. 

 There you can see the orange red rows of quilting and then below the oval label I embroidered using regular two thread embroidery floss with a peek at the back a print that has butterflies and dots in a lavender gray on black ground. The binding is solid colors laid out in the spectrum around two times in a row all around the edges.

finished quilt on the wall 66 x 66"

Another antique crazy quilted fan quilt I saw last summer done by a lady Esther in 1896 which reenforced my creative process to building my own.  She did a nice hand embroidered label that puts mine to shame but it's not a new idea to embroider a makers label. 

That is all. Carry on, quilting whenever possible.