Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Warm Wishes

One of my big, self-imposed, challenges this year is that I am trying to use up the fabric I have in my stash. I am trying not to buy new material (well, except for my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah quilt), and I’m pretty successful so far. I’m enjoying going to my shelves of fabric and seeing what I have, and how it might go with other fabrics I already have.

An added challenge is trying to do patterns that are not “scrappy”. That is, I would like to use my fabrics in ways that do not involve bits and pieces of a lot of different fabrics, but ones that use up 3-5 fabrics in a more consistent way.
Enter Warm Wishes.

This is a pattern that is new to me, but is so versatile I thought I’d try it. It alternates squares of a single fabric and squares that are made up of strips of 3 different fabrics. I looked on my shelves, and finally found a fabric I wanted for the squares. I’d gotten this fabric a long time ago and have been waiting for the right project. It is a warm red color with gold patterns overlaid on the red.
The next step was trying to decide what might go with it. The process was complicated by the fact that I had to find fabrics of which I had enough material (without going “scrappy”). I ended up with a color combination I NEVER would have thought to buy, but which I think works pretty well.
This one:

And the entire piece:

One I'd finished the pieced top, the quilt made its recipient known to me. A friend had just moved to her own place and this would be a house-warming gift for her. So I added the border to make it big enough for a couch quilt, keeping the warm tones going.

The back, I thought, needed something else. So I went back to my shelves and picked out some more fabrics. The back is pieced, though with only a few pieces, and has a very different feel from the front:

Two close ups of the backing fabrics:

The outside border on this side is cherries, which brings us back to warm tones and ties the front and back together to add cohesion to the piece.
I gave it to my friend last week and she pointed out that this gift is literally a “warming” gift. I like that.
She likes the quilt.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

International Quilting Day!

Yes, there is an International Quilting Day. A day to celebrate the creativity and history of the art and craft of quilting. And on this day, in addition to sewing, and using my birthday gift card to the Fabric Store, I find myself ruminating on the developments of this craft form.

A few weeks ago I went to a quilting class, my first ever, and was struck by all the tools and supplies that exist to make quilting easier. Now I've had my rotary cutter (which looks like a pizza cutter), and my rubber mat (which has a grid), for many years, and they do indeed make it easier to cut straight lines and keep the pieces consistent. But at the class I learned about all sorts of other tools: fusible interfacing with a grid, for example. You iron it onto your fabric instead of marking your fabric, which helps you cut and sew straight lines. Gone are the days of laboriously cutting out each square on its own, or marking endless little triangles on the fabric.

In the "old days", as I imagine them, such luxuries did not exist. Quilters used the same tools they used for everything else. The scissors were the cutting tool, and the sewing machines had only one foot.

The feet. Oh the feet.

My new machine came with 4 specialty feet, in addition to the, now standard, feet most machines come with. Feet are attachments used for different types of sewing. The regular foot is only used for basic sewing. Then there's the zipper foot, the hemming foot, the buttonhole foot. the specialty ones include a walking foot, and a free motion foot.

The instructor of the class told me I simply couldn't quilt without the walking foot. I didn't have the heart to tell her I've been doing just that for going on 15 years. Now granted, the walking foot makes it easier in many ways (and the joys and thrills of the free motion quilt can be the subject of an entire post), but it IS possible to quilt without it. I've done it, and so have countless other quilters.
So the question here is, when does convenience become necessity? Is this really an evolution of the craft, or a marketing gimmick? Labor saving tools make things easier, but are they better? And necessary?

I guess it all depends on what you want from quilting. Do yo enjoy the product or the process more? How important is precision? How much time do you have, or want to spend, on the process?

Talking to quilters it becomes clear that we enjoy many different aspects of quilting. Some people really like the design while others enjoy experiencing it as it comes together, little bits of fabric forming a big piece. Some people like the actual quilting of it (connecting the different layers of the piece), while others can't stand this part and send it away for somebody else to do. Some design on graph paper while others use computer software programs to design for them. Finally, some hand quilt exclusively while others use the sewing machine.

The development of technology enables each quilter to focus on the part of the process most appealing to her/him. If the tools is affordable. And many of them are quite expensive. This all leads the craft to develop from an art based on necessity to an art based on leisure.  The various revivals of "folk arts" all seem to follow this pattern. Something that was once considered folksy (read practical and money saving) is now moving to a hobby of leisure. In days when it is more expensive to buy the fabric and batting than a ready-made blanket, the money saving issue is gone.

I compare the fancy $2,500 sewing machines with the $100 ones, and the broad range of fabric prices and I'm reminded of the fabulous Gee's Bend quilters, who sewed amazing pieces out of whatever they had, on simple machines and I am awed. You can read about the Quilters of Gee's Bend, by the way, here:

All that said, I recognize the value of innovation, and how much I, and others, benefit from it.  I will use the fancy new feet, and enjoy the results. I just want to appreciate rather then need them.
And now, it's time to go do some sewing!
Happy International Quilting Day!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Flannel creations

Flannel is perfect for winter, or coziness, and these days there are such fantastic flannel fabrics out there, it's hard not to buy some. Usually, I succumb to the flannel-buying urge in winter, and while I didn't buy any this winter, I've been known to buy flannel. A lot. I use it to make comfy pants for people, and have made jackets for kids out of flannel too. This all means, apart from kids wearing flannel clothes, that I have tons of scraps of flannel.
Here is one thing I made from Flannel:
And a close up:

The pattern is ridiculously easy: you take three strips of 2.5 inches each and sew them together into long pieces. Then you cut them at 2.5 inch intervals. This gives you the three little squares sewn together. You then combine those with a rectangle that is 4.5 by 6.5 inches and sew the rectangles onto the three little squares. Then you get to play with the layout.  The little squares are from left over fabric, but the bright purple I bought especially for this project.
I chose a continuous pattern for layout, but I've seen this done with a non-consistent layout and the effect is a lot of fun.
One funny detail about this quilt: when I finished sewing it, I discovered an inconsistency: One of the squares was laid out differently:
See it? Right there in the middle of the top row?
I actually left it that way for a while, but then I decided to rip some stitches and realign the quilt.
This is a baby quilt that I've donated to the local children's hospital.
I have a few more flannely quilts to show, but they'll wait for another post.
Ah. Flannel.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Noa's a Bat Mitzvah!

I’ve only made three Bat Mitzvah quilts, so far, and each one is for a fairly different kid. Not only different kids, in different households, but kids different in personality and interests. The first two I made were for girls I knew well: my daughter and my niece. I’ve known these girls since infancy (before even?) and have had the joy of seeing them grow up on a daily basis (well, nearly). So when it was time to make their quilts, I had a pretty good idea about their likes, dislikes, and personalities.

The third Bat Mitzvah quilt I made was different. This was for my cousin’s daughter, which makes her my first cousin, once removed, I think. I’ve met this girl twice in her life as she lives in Israel while I live in the US.  I have seen countless photos of her, and have heard stories of her growing up experiences, but had not had a chance to get to know her, as a person, and interact with her, other than those two occasions. This is not enough. Not enough to know a person, and not enough to go on when making a teen quilt.

So I decided to get some help. I contacted her father, my cousin, and asked about her favorite colors and if she’s got a favorite shape, or pattern. He came back with the following: she likes squares, blue, green, and orange.

I settled down to do some serious pondering. The blues and greens-no problem.  Fitting in the orange? That took some thinking. Also, how to make a square-ish pattern that had some interesting twist to it? And on top of all that, I had to consider the usual in making a quilt for a teen (will she like it today? How about tomorrow? And in 4 years?) How to make it not too childish but not too grown up? On the designing level, this might be the most challenging quilt I’ve designed to date.

And after much (much) pondering, I decided to do a wonky squares design. I picked a bunch of greens and blues, mostly from my stash, and cut them into strips of various widths. I also cut a few center squares and rectangles to start on. At the fabric store I found a fantastic orange fabric, with golden webs on it. I found it in the batik section and knew it was perfect. I wanted to use it as an accent color, so I got a smallish piece and cut several small squares and rectangles from it. The small squares would serve as centers for the squares and the wonkiness comes from the varying widths as well as the cutting larger squares off center. I was also able to use the orange for the border, to add some more power to it.

Here it is:

And some detail pictures:

The back, I felt needed to be something else. I didn’t want to use the same colors as I wanted the two sides to be different, but I also didn’t want to stray too far from her favorites; I wanted her to like it. So I decided to keep the square motif and include the blue and green. Instead of orange, though, I used purple.

Like so:

The design is a disappearing nine-patch, done with only 3 colors and with all the blocks laid out so they form a uniform design.This one is made entirely of Batiks.

The quilt is full size and will hopefully serve her well for a long while. I mailed it off to her in Israel. A few months later she called me to tell me she loves it. Success! And I’m glad.
The next Bat Mitzvah quilt is in the works, for my younger daughter, who’ll be celebrating her Bat Mitzvah this summer.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Bat Mitzvah Quilt

My eldest daughter and eldest niece were born before I started quilting. As a result, neither one of them got baby quilts from me. So when they neared their respective Bat Mitzvah dates, it was important to me to make them quilts, and to make them special.   
I posted about my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah quilt here: and now this post is for my niece’s quilt.
My niece is wonderful, smart, creative person. She’s also driven, and ambitious. She is increasingly busy with many activities and so I wanted her quilt to reflect many different things. I wanted it to be a comfortable, soothing quilt, and a quilt of plurality. I wanted it to be unusual, but still use traditional elements. Finally, I wanted it to have flair but not be too busy. If that’s not enough, I also wanted it to be to her liking at 13, 15, 18, and beyond.
It took me a long time to come up with a pattern design, and the design, I admit, changed a few times during the sewing process. I decided in a strippy quilt, with a twist. Here it is (pictured on my bed):

And a close up:

The pattern is sometimes called a Roman Stripe variation, though I didn’t know it at the time. It was just scrappy triangles, sewn together to make squares. The colors I chose were mostly fairly calm colors, but the occasional red keeps them, I think, from being too pale.  Also, the blue sashing is meant to help make all the strippiness into a cohesive design.
I decided to add another twist to it by laying the squares out on point. This adds movement without adding color.
Laying it with the white border was a new thing for me. At first the plan was for an entirely white border, but I thought it made the whole thing look, off, somehow, so I added the blue strip to the border.
When I finished the top I started considering the reverse. I wanted the back to be different in tone and color so my niece could have 2 quilts, and could change the look of her bedroom around easily. I also wanted to make it a bit more traditional in colors for when she didn’t feel like “flair”.  The colors are complimentary here, as are the patterns on each fabric.
And a close up:

The pattern here is a simple one: 4 patch and square alternating. A traditional pattern, again sewn on point.
When I gave it to her, my niece told me she can’t decide which side she likes best. Perfect! This made me so glad I made it reversible. Just a couple of weeks ago she told me it’s still on her bed, which again made me glad.
Next up, a post about the third Bat Mitzvah quilt I've made to date. This third one is quite different, and presented its own set of wonders.