Thursday, January 31, 2008

Slow News Day

There was another onslaught of abundant, unlooked-for, and not-entirely-wanted free fabric this week. Three boxes full, mostly odd scraps in odd weights and in the styles of yesterdecade, it washed up at work somehow. Since I have somehow become known as the hatchetman of scrap fabric, it fell to me to get rid of it. I spent all Wednesday evening washing, pressing, and sorting this crap. Probably not the highest use of my time, but -- I'll admit it -- weirdly satisfying.

One box of larger chunks will move on to SCRAP, a highly cool non-profit here in the City of Roses that is my fabric donation destination of choice. One garbage can full of the dregs will go to Oregon Waste Management, Inc., with the rest of the household trash. That only leaves about 500 piles all over my studio floor, some of which might eventually end up in regular scrap quilts, some of which might work for the "QuiltStorm" project I mentioned briefly last time, and some of which may end up being useable in other folk-style or utility quilts. The place looks like a dry cleaners exploded.

It's a Ring!

The other piece of news is that the "Quilt Blogs by Men" BlogRing has literally doubled in size since the last post!!! That's right: now there are TWO blogs on the ring. Thanks to Feed Dog for signing up.

Now, for all those other male quilt bloggers out there.... of which there must be one or two.... right...? Hello...? Guys....?

OK, that's enough. I'll be back sometime this weekend with a bona fide quilt-related post. Promise.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Quilt Blog Post With No Pictures of Quilts

Finishing so many major projects all at once left me sort of dazed. So, after three posts in a row about finished quilts, I'm taking time out today to talk about the transition back to quilting business as usual. This will probably be more useful for me than it is entertaining to you. Sorry about that.

What Should I Work On Next?

With a couple of months still before nice weather starts to shut down the 2007-2008 quilt year, I've completed two of the three projects (Ice & Fire, Labyrinth) that were the top priorities on my list of goals. The third one, a graduation quilt for Niece #1, is definitely my biggest concern at this point. Fortunately, it is coming along just fine; I finished its face last week and pinned it out last night. Unfortunately, it will be quite a while before I can show it to you here, what with it being a present and all.

Meanwhile, an unanticipated (by me, anyway) pregnancy of a long-time friend means I need to take time out to put together another crib quilt. I'm actually already well into this project, officially Quilt #52 -- I pinned this one out yesterday, too -- and I'll be writing about in detail in the next couple of posts.

Afer those two gift quilts, one big priority is to finish the Four Seasons pieces. I pinned out the last two of those yesterday, too, so that puts them into handwork territory, where I can just tinker with them as opportunities come along.

(If you were counting, I pinned out four different projects yesterday. It was a real pinfest. The tip of my left index finger looks like hamburger.)

Also possible priorities for the rest of this season are the Batik Boxes quilt, the Scrap Blanket project, and the Devil's Claw/Indigo Stars piece. The "Legacy" or "Heritage" piece that I originally thought would be a priority for this year, I'm now thinking I'll put on hold for the time being.

Finally, I've been developing a plan for creating 12 to 20 quick, cheap, and easy lap quilts in a project I'm calling, with characteristic excitability, "QuiltStorm2008." The idea is to work entirely with scrap and salvage materials, and to go for a very simple, highly scrappy aesthetic. It will give me some opportunities to experiment and practice some skills, and to generate a lot of simple utility quilts in a big hurry. More on this madness as it develops.


I've decided to get back onto a blogring. I've joined "Quilt Studio" as member number 278 or something, and look forward to getting to know the neighbors over time. I seem to be up and running on it. If you are visiting from Quilt Studio, please ignore this dull post and go down to the previous one, which is quite good.

And, because I am quite mad, I decided to create a blogring for male quilt bloggers. To my knowledge, there is at least one other such creature. If you happen to know of any others, please have them come and join my ring. It's likely to get pretty lonely, otherwise. As of right now, the ring is fully functional, except that since I'm the only member the "next site" button leads from my blog to my blog, the "previous site" button leads from my blog to my blog, and so on.


Her's what happened to my daily readership after Exuberant Color linked to my post about Labyrinth:

There's a reason E.C. commands that kind of readership. Her work is the absolute shizzle, and she's got a tons of ideas and insights to share. You should check it out. Go! Now!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Labyrinth: Done

2003 - 2008
68" x 94.5"

Sometime in 2003, a friend told me about the practice of walking a labyrinth meditative as a spiritual or meditative exercise, an idea I had not encountered before. She explained that, technically speaking, a labyrinth is different than a maze in that a labyrinth is not a puzzle, and it has no decision points. It is simply a winding and convoluted path that leads inevitably to a final destination.

Inspired by this much information about traditional labyrinths, and not knowing some other facts that are arguably kinda significant -- that they are supposed to begin at an edge, work through a pattern of concentric circles, and end in the center, for instance -- I charged headlong into creating my own version of a labyrinth on graph paper. Like many of my best designs, the basic ideas were set down during a staff meeting at work. The resulting design has its beginning and end points in opposite corners, and has no relationship whatsoever to concentric circles, but is in every other way (which is to say, in no way at all) a classic traditional labyrinth.

Initial construction was held up by real life while I got married, bought a house, and moved in with my wife, but by late 2003 the adventure began. Since the design requires around 3000 2" x 2" squares, there was obviously a lot of preliminary cutting to be done. For a clear contrast between the labyrinth "path" and "walls" I could only use fabrics that I think of as "darks" and "dark-darks" against "light-lights." In other words, I was afraid the path would lose definition if I used pieces with anything but the very lightest color value. In retrospect I may have overdone this a bit, but in the moment it forced me to scout for and buy a lot of very light fabric in 2003-2005.

Each square was individually placed to create interesting patterns between individual pieces, as well as improvised patterns of color on larger areas of the quilt surface. Those color patterns were, in turn, constrained by rules built into the original "map" of the quilt; essentially, progressively warmer colors are allowed towards the center of the piece. A subtle pattern in the tints of the "path" operates independently of the obvious pattern in the colors of the "walls."

The sheer scale of the project required a special approach to construction. To get a flat area big enough to do the layout, I had to disassemble our bed and clear the bedroom floor. This gave me enough space to construct a third of the quilt at a time. In fall 2003 and winter 2005, I took advantage of long weekends when Mrs.5000 was out of town; for the last round, early last year, we moved into the guestroom for a few days. I laid out the two outside sixths of the quilt first, the two intermediate sixths second, and then the middle third last; for this reason, an incredibly savvy observer might notice the fabric quality and range improving closer to the middle.

Once laid out, the individual pieces were carefully stacked and labeled for the long, tedious process of assembly into strips over the coming months. Because I only realized after assembling the first sixth -- what is now the bottom of the quilt -- that a standard sewing machine foot is not exactly 1/4" wide, that section of the quilt, like everything from my first 10 years of quilting, has the seam allowances subtly screwed up. The bottom edge is a tiny bit shorter than the top edge, and you can tell from the picture that this makes the lowest part of the quilt pucker a little bit. This is the kind of thing that quilt judges just hate. Well, heck with them.

With the face completed and assembled by last September, I took a month or two off from Labyrinth while doing the machine quilting on a few other projects. This was a deliberate decision, as it let me practice and get my most egregious mistakes out of the way on quilts I'm less invested in. Ice & Fire having been my most densely-quilted piece to date, and Two Complex Shapes immediately surpassing it, Labyrinth has a yet denser quilting pattern, and over a much larger surface area to boot. Although the machine quilting was finished between Christmas and New Year, that left plenty of detail work left. Over the last several weeks, I've been gradually burying threads, attaching and sewing down the binding, and attaching a sleeve. I finished all that last night.

I noticed this week that two years ago, in the third post of this blog, I mentioned Labyrinth and guessed that it would be completed in 2009. So, according to that estimate I am in the very rare and gratifying position of having finished something a full year ahead of schedule. It's nice.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Two Complex Shapes: Done

It's Another Finish, People!!

A few days after wrapping up Ice & Fire, I had another finish, putting the final touches on Two Complex Shapes on the Friday after Christmas.

It's the second time I've finished this quilt, actually. It was "finished," or so I thought at the time, in 1999, and it was actually the main piece of decor in my old apartment's living room for a number of years. More recently, though, I'd become dissatisfied with its minimal and poorly-executed quilting. With its large pieces outlined "in the ditch" (and some supplementary tieing of the biggest pieces), 'Shapes had always lacked something in the texture department, and in recent years had begun to sag.

I was pretty sure it would look better if I went back in and overquilted it in a denser pattern, but I'm very happily surprised with how MUCH better it looks. The change is kind of hard to capture on film, but it's pretty dramatic in person. Here's what it looked like before:

I like Two Complex Shapes for its uniqueness. I've never really seen another quilt piece quite like it. When I designed it, back in 1999, I was dating a painter, and had developed an interest in abstract modern art. This was an attempt to create a quilt piece inspired by that tradition. The specific design began as a doodle I made while one of my undergraduate students was giving an oral presentation of his term project. When he was finished, I had a design I liked a lot, but realized I hadn't paid attention to a word the poor guy had said. I gave him a "C," reasoning that if it had been an especially good or an exceptionally bad presentation, it would have held my interest better.

The teal fabric of the background was leftover from a set of living room curtains I had made earlier in the year. I picked out the orange to match it for a kind of "corroded copper" combination that I like a lot (I used the same basic colors later for Log Cabin). Cutting out the large, irregular shapes was brutal. I managed to get them more or less accurate, cutting with scissors (!) on the floor of the girlfriend's painting studio. "More or less" accurate -- in the top half of the smaller complex shape, you can really tell that the fabric has been coaxed and cajoled into position.

The quilting pattern -- the part I added this fall -- is a triumph of one-inch painter's tape. Since the background is quilted in those one-inch parallel lines, each of which gets interupted once or twice by the shapes, there were approximately six zillion loose ends to bury once the sewing itself was done. Finally, I replaced the previous slim hanging sleave with one at the standard 3 1/2 inch width, which gives me the option of putting it in shows.

The thing I like best about the new 'Shapes is the collaboration between 1999 Michael and 2007 Michael. I like the younger guy's design, and I like the older guy's machine quilting. I didn't tear out the old, crude quilting and tieing, so all of the old flaws are still there. Plus, there are a few new flaws thrown in for good measure -- this is the quilt, you might remember, that taught me that painter's tape and scissors don't mix. But for all that, I'm pretty happy with it. And, it's done!

I can see the patch, but I bet you can't.

The back side looks kind of cool, too: