Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lesson learned.

When I came back from my trip, I had almost nothing to work on, and I also had nothing I was excited about in my (very small) stash. I was completely uninspired, and I had to sit down and think about why I was feeling that way. I had had a gnawing suspicion over the last year that the way I was quilting wasn't really working for me. I lost enthusiasm for almost all of my projects shortly after I started them. I loved other people's finished quilts, but never my own.

Most of my friends and the quilters in blogland that I admire have very strong personal aesthetics, and I didn't think I had that. Over the course of the year, I thought I had developed a style that I called "vintage modern," but that didn't really speak to me.

So I went through all of the photos in my quilt books that I had tagged with post-its. The one book I knew I returned to again and again was actually the first quilt book I ever owned, which my great aunt gave me when I first started quilting: "How to Make an Amish Quilt." This is not an attractive or eye-catching book (it was printed once in the eighties, and has long been OOP), but I had turned to it almost nightly. Then I went through my Flickr stream and made a mosaic of my favorites. What did I see?

1. A Wedding Quilt for Joseph and Annie Pattern, 2. Yellow, Gray, & White Mini-Quilt, 3. Willy Nilly's Values Quilt-Along, 4. cross quilt, 5. Chaos Quilt, 6. Ouch!: piecing done?, 7. Amish Impressions Zigzag, 8. Inspiration from Gee's Bend, 9. d.o.n.e., 10. TDF quilt (aka floating squares) 03, 11. Work Quilt #2, 12. American Folk Art Museum, 13. ZigZag Quilt blocks, 14. 1000 Pyramids, 15. stalled, 16. Paletas Quilt - mussed, 17. squares!, 18. City Fair, 19. any way you slice it - ready to assemble, 20. "A la manière de Vasarely" : job done, 21. New, 22. PMC1: Adrianne Ove - Quilt, 23. Circle Side of the 'Circle of Life' Quilt by Morgan Wills, 24. Liz's Blocks - "Triple B" Bee, 25. Blue Maize Quilt - Side View

That's right: all solids. I realized that I am most drawn to very simple shapes and bold colors (hence the name of my new blog).

So I set a goal for myself that I would begin working with solids as much as possible, and I felt completely rejuvenated and creative again. I bought enough solid fabrics to triple the size of my stash within two days (whoops). I even considered doing the Project Modern Monochromatic Quilt Challenge.

I chose a berry/plum shade, Kona Cerise, as my "base" fabric from which to build out on either side of the color spectrum. I bought a bunch of fabrics online, hoping that they would match in person as well as they did on my monitor (they didn't), and got to work. I knew I wanted to do a Thousand Pyramids quilt because it is one of my favorite patterns, and it lends itself so well to solids. I made a template, and then I sliced off the top 1.5" of that template and made a baby template to plan my quilt design. Yes, I know I need a design wall. I cut out tiny triangles and glued them all down painstakingly. I came up with this:

I patted myself on the back for achieving such good balance and cut into all of my precious new solids to create 9.5" tall triangles. I sewed up a quilt top quicker than ever, stood back, and...hated it. REALLY hated it! The balance was completely off, and the Moda Grunge fabric I used looked awful in the larger triangles, though they had added some good dimension in the small ones. Someone even looked at it without her contacts and said it was "blobby." Okay, the last thing you want is a blobby quilt, right?

I thought of a million and one ways to fix it without picking it apart, including appliqueing triangles on top of those I didn't like (I even measured and made another template for that)...but ultimately, I decided that I'm going to try to salvage whatever fabric I can and call it a quilting lesson. I only "wasted" about $2o worth of fabric, and it's probably the best $20 I ever spent.

And even though I failed in this challenge, I feel more inspired than ever before. I started on a mini-quilt that I absolutely love. And I'm wondering: have any of you ever had a similar "aha!" moment? Has your aesthetic developed over the years? Or are all quilters (knitters, crocheters, etc) born, and not made?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I Hate Technology

But I love my Kindle. I received it as a gift at 10 PM one night and had chosen a pattern for a Kindle case by nine the following morning. I knew I could figure the pattern out myself, but it was just so nice to be able to mindlessly cut the fabric and sew it together while watching True Blood (or whatever, just saying).

I still had all of my scraps out from the burrito pillow, so I dug into my stash for the perfect neutral fabric for the body. I had about two yards of this charcoal wool that I bought at Sewfisticated nine months ago for $1.75. I had dreams of making a bag that looks like a large version of this case. Gotta start small.

I made two of these in about three hours, while talking on the phone, watching television, and eating leftover V-day cheesecake. For the internal fabric, I used a purple polka dot that I bought to back a baby quilt a few months ago, but never used. So I used about 1/4 yard of a fabric I really don't like and still have 1 and 1/4 yards left over (at least I'm making progress!). I also used wool batting, which I thought would be a bit more protective because of the higher loft, but I wish I hadn't because it feels a bit too those little stuffed books that you give to babies.

I modified the closure strap and sewed on a snap, but think I should have used Velcro instead...I will probably rip it off tonight and replace the snap the Velcro, which is much better when you're in a rush to get on and off the train!

I also omitted the pockets the pattern includes...both to speed the process up and because I couldn't think of anything I would need to put in the pocket of my Kindle case.

I'm looking forward to having some time to sew this weekend. Happy President's Day, everyone!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Because the world needed another Spiderweb tutorial.

For my inaugural post (on this blog, anyway), I present you with a tutorial for the adorable and increasingly popular Spiderweb block! There are several other Spiderweb tutorials available online that employ the two primary methods of creating this block: templates and foundation piecing. Mine differs from them all slightly in that 1) it produces a larger finished block than usual (18.5"), which I prefer, and 2) the foundation pieced area is a bit more stable in my version (or at least I think it is).

A tutorial using the template method can be found here, and a popular one using a different foundation-piecing method can be found here.

Head to your scrap bin for A LOT OF coordinating scraps that are at least 6" long and various widths (the longer, the'll just cut them down as you go). As with any string block, you can make your "strings" all the same width or all different widths, depending on the look you want to achieve. Mine vary from 1.5" to 2.25"...not a huge variance, but enough to provide some interest and dimension. There is also a roughly even quantity of light and dark fabrics in my block.

Step 1: Gather your materials and prepare your triangles

You need a ruler, a cutting mat and board, a pencil, a rotary cutter, and your background and string fabrics. White is used as a background fabric most often, but it is not necessary to use a neutral! I think this pattern looks great with a brightly colored solid as the background. I am using Kona cotton in Cerise, one of my favorite colors.

Cut two 13.75" squares. Cut them down the middle to produce two big triangles.

Take one of the triangles, your ruler, and a pencil. Fold your triangle in half and crease it with your nail. You want a sharp crease.

Open it out. Do you see a thin, sharp crease going STRAIGHT down the middle? Okay, good.

Step 2: Mark your triangles

Take your ruler and measure 4" from the top point of the triangle. Mark that point with a pencil or pen. There is no need to use an impermanent or disappearing marking tool here. You are going to sew a full 1/4" away from this mark when you begin assembling the block.

Repeat on the other side.

Now you will mark the bottom of the triangle, which is where you will see the importance of having a straight crease right down the middle. Place your ruler along the bottom of the triangle. Mark 1/4" on either side of the creased line.

The final stage of the marking process is connecting the dots on either side of the crease to one another to form a fabric placement line. Connect the top and bottom lines on the right side of the crease.
Repeat on the left side.

Now you can move onto the good part! Your triangle should look like this:

Step 3: Sew!

Place your first strip of fabric right-side-down along the drawn line on the right side of the crease, making sure the fabric edge aligns with the inked line. This is very important because it will determine whether or not the points of your web match up when they are all put together! The fabric should be closer to the middle of the triangle than to the far right point because you are going to iron it out to the right side when you move onto the second strip.

Sew that strip down and iron it out.

Place a second strip of fabric on top of the first strip, right sides together, and sew it down. Sew through the base fabric. You will not cut the background fabric away at this stage (this is where my method differs from others). Not cutting away will obviously waste a lot of fabric, but it will also prevent the base triangle from distorting while you are working with it, which is a potential hazard in the other foundation-pieced methods. Sewing the strips directly to the base fabric will keep it stable as you work with it. I am willing to sacrifice fabric for accuracy; if you're not, you can keep going, just push the background triangle of fabric out of the way as you continue!

Open it out and iron. I iron after I sew down every strip, and I advise doing so as well, just so you don't get any lumps or wavy fabric in the finished product.

Continue until you reach the end of the block. You will notice that I trim the fabrics as I go instead of letting them hang loose over the ends. This is much easier than waiting until you trim up the triangles and then trying to pull apart pieces of fabric that are attached by a few stitches.

When you reach the end of the block, I think it is better to sew on the last strip by laying a piece of fabric horizontally instead of vertically. Just make sure it covers enough of the background fabric:

One side complete!

Repeat on the other side and you have this:

Lay it upside down on your cutting mat and trim it up, using the background fabric as a guide:

Now you have one lovely triangle!

Sew three more in exactly the same way. Experiment with different layouts. I move them all around and look at every possible arrangement. I try to avoid letting any of the same fabrics touch each other. It's inevitable that it will occur once in a while unless you really obsess over it when you're sewing, which I admit to doing sometimes. The most important thing in a quilt like this is to prevent the same fabrics from lining up together if they are both a very dark color. That will create "stripes" in the finished product that will draw the eye in. Eek!

Divide them into two sets of two and sew the pairs together. I line up and pin the web points first, and then pin out on either side from there. Press these seams open. There is too much fabric in there to get lazy about this.

At this point, lay the big triangles out to ensure that you don't have any skew--ie, the long side of the triangle isn't perfectly straight and is skewed along the straight edge. Skewing will make it very difficult to square up your block after you sew the pairs together. Skewing will look like this:

See how the bottom part of the triangle slants to the right? You want to trim that off. Here's another shot of the skewed triangle:


Now that you've ensured that your two triangles have straight edges, sew them together into one large square. Again, I line up the web points first, then I pin the area between them and ensure that the star is centered, and then I line up and pin the rest. Sew. Press seams open again. It is fiddly because of the strings, but it's worth the effort!

Square off at 18.5". Et voila! A beautiful Spiderweb block.

The one frustrating thing about this block is that you have to make four of them to start to see the webs appear...but making them doesn't take as long as you might expect. Each one of the blocks has only taken me about 75 minutes total.

Send me the link to your Spiderweb if you make one!