Challenging Quilting

seasquared-mouthOur guild’s challenge quilt is due in three weeks.  It’s secret until then, so I can’t show photos of it now, but I can say I’m excited about what I’m doing.  Tess, our Challenge Queen, gives us the annual specifications in February with the deadline being our November meeting.  I typically think about it, research photos and patterns, basically collecting thoughts until October or so when I have no choice but to make something.

There are years when I’ve started early, but I often aborted the first plan. There have been exceptions; occasions when I started earlier than usual, stayed focused on a project that took a lot of time, and brought it to completion ahead of schedule.  But several have been done the week before the due date.

On the single occasion when I completed the project early, I really disliked the quilt and abandoned the idea of using it as my entry. The challenge in 2013 was “ Dare to be Square” or something like that.  Tess always comes up with catchy titles.  The rule was that the quilt must be pieced (no appliqué!) and every piece must be a square. In October, I sprang into panic mode, grabbed a half-yard cut of a bold fish print by Brandon Mably, some hand-dyed fabrics of similar colors, and started cutting squares.

seasquared-whole-quiltI cut the largest square I could from the focus print (20” finished. (I know – it must have been a generous half-yard cut)), then cut smaller squares from the fish fabric and the others.  20” finished was a nice measure to use as the reference.  It was easy to patch together units using 1”, 2”, 4”, 5”, 10” components.

seasquared-fishesAs the project grew on the design wall, I had fun finishing a fish.  Where one had been cut off, I could find missing components of that fellow somewhere else in the smaller squares and place it close by to make his image extend into the other spaces.  I even discovered a batik striped fabric that mimicked the background of Mably’s fish and inserted that.

seasquared-starfishAs the “squarequarium” grew on my design wall, I began imagining quilting lines.  I could stitch even more of the missing parts of fish bodies, add bubbles in the water, and enhance fish fins and tails.  Oh, my, how fun was that?

seasquared-octopusI sewed quickly to get the piecing done, layered it with cotton batting, and began dancing with my sewing machine.  I used some heavy threads on some of the solid spaces, enjoyed stitching lots of free-motion quilting motifs, and especially enjoyed adding the octopus and starfish.

Even after all that, things looked a little “flat”.  Eyes.  Fish have prominent eyes.  So out came the wool, a circle cutter, some buttons, and voila!

seasquared-backA solid blue fabric on the back made the stitching details noticeable. Susan said she liked the back of this quilt better than the front.  So for her next birthday, I stitched a fish on blue fabric for her beach house.

This quilt does not contain colors in my house or colors I particularly enjoy using in a quilt.  But I love this finished product because seeing it reminds me how much fun a challenge can be.

I called this finished project “Sea Squared.”  Some of my math colleagues will notice the reference to a  project we worked on for years. The finished size is 40” x 34”.

This year the challenge requires at least three fan blocks, and some yellow fabric.  The finished size is prescribed this time: 36” square.  My first reaction was “I’m not a fan of the fan block,” but in my research I’ve certainly learned a lot about those historic blocks and their reinterpretations through the years.  As a friend said yesterday, “I love our challenges.  They force us to think about things differently.”  Indeed.

Update:  A later post revealed my entry in the fan block challenge.  It is here.

Never Say Never or Dye

prewashing fabricsToday I find myself doing two things I thought I wasn’t doing anymore.  Prewashing fabric, and dyeing fabric.

Once upon a time, I prewashed all my commercial quilt fabric.  I loved seeing the colors up close at the ironing board, I found myself reshuffling fabrics to make new groupings as they hung on a rack to dry, and I planned all kinds of projects during that stage of the process.  Lately, though, I’ve enjoyed piecing with the crisp fabrics as they came home from the store.  And, I enjoyed having the time spent sewing rather than washing and ironing.  I do only buy quilt shop quality fabrics and haven’t had a problem with colors bleeding.  Well, I have had one problem red fabric, but it was a top quality brand, and it had been prewashed.  So, there is that.

I’ve lately bought some vintage linens that were heavily starched and I didn’t want the bugs to attack.  Recently I’ve been doing a lot of hand stitching, exploring more of Jude Hill’s techniques, and like touching the soft rumpled linen and cotton in that process.  I wanted to use some Irish linen handkerchiefs I recently bought which had never been used (I removed the Rich’s label before throwing them in the washer) and wanted to be sure the creases were not yet holes.

mb wool with snailAnd, last week I stitched the wool piece you see here from a Maggie Bonanomi pattern.  I was anxious to work up another one of her pieces, and grabbed a piece of silk matka for the background of the next piece.  To complete the load, I added a few pieces of Japanese woven fabrics I had bought in Paducah.  They needed softening a bit, too.

Maybe dyeing isn’t the right word to describe the process you see in the bowl.  Staining might be more like it.  Some of the fabrics I’ve been working with lately are a bit too WHITE for my taste.  And, I had this set of blue linen napkins that I’ve been working with and wondered what I could do to give them some visual interest.  Yes, the weave is nice.  The color is nice.  It’s just a bit flat.  And, I admit to being spoiled by using hand-dyed fabrics; I’ve gotten accustomed to their subtle variations.  blackberry dyeingSo, I had some blackberries we weren’t eating as fast as we should, I boiled them with some water in the microwave, and added some fabrics.  If you think you see bits of berries in the bowl, you are right.  I’m hoping for a mottled effect.

I love hand-dyed fabrics.  I’ve said that before.  But I don’t like the chemical nature of synthetic dyes and the equipment needed to dye my own fabric.  However, I have recently embraced watercolors on fabric and like to alter the color a bit myself.  So, natural recoloring might be something I can do with rust and berries and nuts and dirt.  Think of it as a country girl’s approach to hand-dyes.

Stay tuned for the outcome.

Piecing Pleasures

featherweightToday was a day with much time on the phone and on the computer.  Arranging details for upcoming events, paying bills, scheduling things.  Frustrating all.

And, seemingly accomplishing nothing.

But then I went into my sewing room for an hour or so.  I cut up some fabric and sewed it back together.  Now I’m myself again.

It was a simple design…one I’ve done before, but just refining the size of the block for another project.  But the pressing of the fabric, the slicing with a sharp rotary cutter, the sewing back together again, the hum of the machine.  Is there anyone who doesn’t find this process comforting?

I know, there are people who break out in hives just hearing about this.  But those are people who like to clean house and pull weeds, I think.  I love to sew!

I think I should reiterate that I was using a really simple forgiving pattern that does not involve matching intersections or tedious measuring.  Though those kinds of projects are rewarding too, today I needed improvisational bliss!  I oversized the pieces, sewed with a casual seam allowance, and trimmed to fit.  Pure pleasure!

The Peddler’s Quilt

Mr. GlazeThis gentleman is Mr. Luther Glaze, a peddler who sold fabric to my husband’s grandmother, Zelema, in the 1920’s and 30’s. Once a week, Mr. Glaze arrived  in his truck, his wares protected with a canvas cover.  “Granny Zee” never paid him with money, but with butter and eggs from her farm.

"Sadie Belle's Scrap Baskets", 2007. Made from scraps from my mother-in-law's mother's fabrics. Zelma Carter bought these from a peddler, Luther Glaze. She never paid cash, but paid him with butter and eggs. All fabrics except the white bacground came from her 1930's stash.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The quilt here, “Granny Zee’s Scrap Baskets,” is one I made in 2007 using fabrics left from some of Zee’s sewing.  Her daughter, Sadie Belle, was my mother-in-law.  In her twilight years, Ms. Sadie found a large bag of scraps and offered them to me to “use in a quilt.”  I washed, ironed, and sorted some 69 different prints.  Many of them were from feedsacks, some were fabrics Ms. Sadie recognized as being a school dress for her or an apron for her mother.  The remnants I had were often the negative space that resulted from cutting pieces for clothing; a shirt front, a sleeve, a collar from a child’s dress.

I delighted in the fabrics and thought egg baskets to be an appropriate block.  Using a solid white fabric as the background, I pieced the entire quilt using Zee’s scraps.  I made a wall hanging and worked quickly to complete the quilt, knowing Ms. Sadie’s memory was fading every day.  She treasured it and shared memories from the fabrics every time we looked at it together.

Sitting on Mama G's back porch with her and stitching on her quilt.

Ms. Sadie had some moments of anxiety and anger with her dementia, but my sewing basket seemed to calm her.  As it always calms me.

One might question, as I did, why the family had a framed photo of the peddler.  Asked, but not answered.