Sunday, November 07, 2010

I Will Never Make a Quilt This Bad Again

...I mean, maybe I'll make one that you think is uglier, but I doubt I will reach such technical depths again.

I used to number my quilts when I started them, instead of when I finished them.  Since this one I just finished is #35 -- when Purple & Blue was #57 -- you can get a sense of how long it was in the hopper.  In fact I started it sometime in 2001.

In fact, I started them in 2001.  They were to be four separate panels, roughly 2 1/2 feet square, each representing one of the four seasons.  The plan [over there to the right] was kind of mathematical, with central strips of eight inches flanked outwards with strips of four inches, two inches, one inch, a half inch, and a quarter inch.  Then there would be a "central" piece one diagonal space from the center, and an around-the-world type cycle around that.

Oh, and this was going to be my big adventure in hand quilting, too.  I had never done any, so it was my big opportunity to learn and practice the ancient and venerable art, etc. etc.

Well.  Progress was brisk in the early going, and within only three years I had fall and winter pieced out.

Occasionally, I did a little hand quilting on them.  But not very often.  The project petered out.  Then, in 2007, I pieced the other two seasons.  And then, nothing.  They've been a perennial "to do" item ever since, but never one I had any particular enthusiasm for.

This September, I realized that I really don't have any interest in hand quilting, nor in tripping over the quilting hoops all the time.  I tossed them in a free box, then turned my attention to the Four Seasons.  "Why on Earth," I thought, "would anyone, including me, want a quartet of panels that had to be hung separately but in a set?"  Not being able to come up with an answer, I went about a highly jerry-rigged process of sewing them together into one single unattractive wall hanging!  Here it is:

You'll note that it already looks a little dated; that's what happens when you spend nine years.  Nor do the color value schemes quite match; they weren't intended to be seen that close together.  I had fun with the wacky spiral quilting, after ripping out the hand quilting.  But it's obviously cobbled together; check out the amazingly un-square bottom edge (it's worse viewed from the back, since the four panels weren't even backed with the same fabric).  What really slays me, though, is the elegant center join:

Well, live and learn.  The point is, it's finished.

Dimensions: 48" x 46" (Not square!)
Batting: Assorted.
Backing: Two different kinds of dark blue.

Begun: 2001, 2004, and 2007
Finished: October, 2010

Intended Use/Display: I have no idea.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mail Quilt Lucre

I got very small quilt in the mail this summer from my quilting buddy Jennifer!

I know she is not the first person to do this, but I was impressed both by the zippy little miniature and by how well it worked. There was nothing to stiffen it -- it just used regular batting -- but the intrepid employees of the USPS endured whatever rain, snow, sleet, and hail necessary to get it from Keystone State to Beaver State. Sweet!

Thanks, Jennifer!

Monday, October 04, 2010

Mondrian I

It has been sitting around almost-done for a long time, but a few weeks ago I finished the piece I'm calling "Mondrian I."  It's a rendering of Mondrian's Composition in Red, Yellow, Blue, and Black in scrap corduroy.  This is admittedly kind of a weird concept, but... well, you be the judge, jury and executioner.  The title "Mondrian I" kind of gives away the secret that I'm thinking of doing more Mondrianana.*

Here's the real deal, right, for a point of comparison.  The altered palette was driven mostly by the particular box of scrap fabric that happened to wash up in my attic -- a large box worth found by Mrs.5000 at an estate sale for a buck a few years back -- but I think really gives the fabric rendition a nice identity all its own.  The quilting follows the nap of the corduroy at roughly the width of the black framing pieces, all of which are cut so that their grain runs up-and-down, regardless of whether they are horizontal or vertical pieces.

Dimensions: 58" x 58"
Batting: A thin mattress pad from "the bins" -- this is a 100% scrap-and-salvage quilt.
Backing: A sheet of scrap khaki.

* I made up this word!  Like it?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Quilt for Niece #2: Design Development.

Last week, I talked a little about how I interviewed Niece #2 about her quilt preferences in order to come up with this plan for her graduation quilt.

(I didn't mention that I drew the above while thinking with Caspar David Friedrich's The Wreck of the Hope on my mind, mostly because I forgot but also because people sometimes look at you funny if you mention art-historical influences for quilt designs).

Anyway, with the basic concept in place, the next step was to figure out the relative widths of the strips. One option was just cutting them all to the same width and fudging the angles, but we're talking about Niece #2 here and I wanted to shoot a little higher than that. To help me get the geometries right, I used simple graphics software to overlay a more exact pattern over the original sketch.

This seemed pretty good, but I wondered if I could create a sense of depth by making the top "shard" with thinner strips. I came up with this:

I checked with N#2, and she agreed that this second version was better.

After that came the torturous application of high-school geometry, as I experimented with different strip widths. Ultimately, and despite the numbers on the above mock-up, I decided that making the vertical black-white strips 3.25 inches wide will yield the right size of blanket. That makes the stripes of the three shards, from bottom to top, 2.9, 2.3, and 1.45 inches wide, not exactly measurements that are marked on your standard quilting rulers. Cutting the fabric involved quite a bit of eyeballing, with some help from this "annotated" mockup:
At this point, I have lots of strips cut long, and a vague hope that I'll actually be able to tie all those weird angles together. Maybe it will be easy? But I totally doubt it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Devil's Claw

A Collaboration With a Stranger from an Earlier Generation

In September 2007, I wrote about a "salvage mission" to make something out of a set of 20 hand-pieced blocks, almost certainly from the 1930s, that I had discovered in a box of scrap fabric. They were, as I said at the time, nothing objectively special:
the craftsmanship is moderate at best, the fabric quality was poor to begin with and has not improved with age.... They are neither uniform in size nor especially square. Any given side can vary between 12 and 14 inches.... Nor do I have any idea who made them; certainly no one with any connection to me or my family.
And it was love at first sight.

Two months later, I had worked out a quilt face using sixteen of the blocks. And then things slowed down dramatically. With fabric as poor as all that -- you can see my green desktop right through that muslin, did you notice -- I knew the quilting was going to have to be pretty dense and pretty structural to keep the thing from disintegrating within a few years. For a year, I was too hesitant to even begin quilting. Then, at some point, I quilted in the basic grid, but still balked at working within the individual blocks.

Last spring, I finally bit the bullet. It was a lot of work, and lasted me through a couple of classic novels on tape. By June, though, the quilting was finished, and I was able to take the piece on a vacation with my wife's family to bury threads and finish the binding. Sometime in the summer, I made a sleeve for it. And last Friday, I was finally able to hang it.

So here we are:

Here's a little more detail:

An individual block:

And here's a look at what I came up for a quilting pattern. Eight-pointed stars and pentagons!

I am, I'm afraid, quite pleased with myself. I'm going to be a bit quilt-insufferable for a while. I just wish my collaborator, whoever she (presumably) was (almost certainly), could share the moment.

Dimensions: 86" x 86"
Batting: Commercial low-loft cotton
Backing: A subtle white-on-white calico, which is the same fabric used in the latticework on the quilt face.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Quilt is Born

When Niece #1 graduated from high school, I set a precedent to launch all four of my favorite young punks into adult life with, you know, a blankie. Now it's #2's turn. I sent her a collection of my quilts (with a few of Rebel's thrown in for good measure) and had her tell me what she liked and didn't like.

Things that N#2 like include stripes, asymmetry, and a look inspired by modernism. Sweet! They also include black and red, which are the only two colors of fabric that I do not have coming out of my ears. For the first time in a couple of years, I will actually have to buy short lengths of fabric. But that's OK.

After some fussing with graph paper, I had two designs I liked. They are not something I myself would want to sleep under -- hence the working titles -- but hey, I'm not Niece #2.

UnQuiet Dreams #1

UnQuiet Dreams #2

N#2 has given the nod to the second -- as I'd hoped! -- so at some point I will be moving into fabric acquisition mode. Probably it will become "UnQuiet Dreams," dropping the "#2", and "UnQuiet Dreams #1" will disappear into the vast literature of quilts that never happened. But who knows?

Friday, September 10, 2010

The 2010-11 PreSeason List

2009 - 2010 feels pretty much like the quilt season that didn't happen, but I don't think that' entirely true. We'll see! In this post, I've just copied last year's Pre-Season list over, and we'll just sort of annotate it in color to make this year's list and to get a sense of what happened over the last 12 months.


First Priority

Top priorities to finish this year. It would be nice to get ALL of these done.

Devil's Claw -- This is one I've talked about a lot in the last few years. The face is complete, and it's been pinned, so it just needs quilting and binding. "Just." -- Well! This took a lot of quilting! But I'm happy to say that it is only half a sleeve from finished. I'll probably finish it next time I watch a movie.

Jennifer Challenge -- Me and my friend Jennifer both bought a set of fabrics, and she is currently putting the hanging sleeves on the quilt she made with hers. I started cutting and piecing mine last night. I need to catch up, or Jennifer will hurt me. -- Finished!

Mondrian I -- My awesome (if I do say so myself) reproduction of a Mondrian painting in scrap corduroy. The face is finished, so it needs a back, some batting, and some quilting. -- This one only needs a sleeve.

Symbol -- Another one I've talked about a lot here. The face background is complete. I need to select a fabric for the symbol and finish the face. -- The face is mostly finished, but I pinned it to the back and batting before remembering the symbol's diacritical marks. Shouldn't be a problem.

StormQuilts -- I have four of these on the First Priority list, but I won't belabor the details. -- I finished three of those four.

So that's really not so bad in the first tier. In fact, it's so good that we'll STOP RIGHT THERE and ignore the Second, Third, and Forth Priority Quilt goals. You can see them here, and for the most part, nothing whatsoever happened with them. So either I was good at identifying my priorities, or disciplined in pursuing them.

So let's say the main priorities this year are:

1) Finish and show the Devil's Claw
2) Finish and show Mondrian #1
3) A New Project: Design and Create a Quilt for Niece #2
4) A New Project: Design and Create a Wedding Quilt for Austin and Vida
5) Finish the Symbol
6) Finish SQ #6
7) Finish SQ #13
8) Finish the mess that the Four Seasons Project turned into (I'll talk about this later).

And then see what's down there in the other priorities. Meanwhile, of course, I can always

9) Zip out SQs #14+ if I feel like it.

That seems ambitious enough for now.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Season Opener: SQ#13 is Off and Running

It's the opening Saturday of the college football season, and therefore of course opening day of the 2010-2011 Quilting Season! Unfortunately, my #1 team is under suspension, but my emergency backup team, Oregon State, put up a pretty good fight against #6 TCU.

As the pregame rigmarole was happening, I thought about some various season-opening tasks I could do, such as getting a mental inventory of projects in progress, coming up with a list of ideas for new projects, or even just organizing fabrics. But then I thought -- no, I just get some momentum going. I want to some good old fashioned cutting and sewing without thinking too hard.

So here's a one-game face for a new Storm Quilt -- It will be SQ#13.

Now this is obviously not a masterpiece, but I love it because it's exactly the kind of thing I was thinking of when I came up with the QuiltStorm idea. It is, of course, made of scrap and salvage. The green is from a piece of salvage that's been around for years, the red is a poly/cotton gingham that I bought at 50 cents for 2 3/4 yards at an estate sale last weekend, and the beige was a sheet with a big hole in it that Mrs.5000 brought home out of a freebox earlier in the week. The thread was garage-sale C&C -- from your garage sale, Sarah, if you're reading this. The batting and back are still to come, but they'll be salvage too.

But more to the point, it was FAST. The StormQuilts were supposed to be made simply and quickly, but I immediately started getting fussy and reducing the scale of the pieces. That takes time. Whereas, a full-size quilt top that can be conceived, cut, sewn, and pressed during four quarters of football -- that's fast enough to deserve the "storm" appellation.

Game on, people!

Saturday, June 05, 2010

StormQuilt #12: Finished

After I finished Purple and Blue last week, I did a little straightening up in my project room and was surprised to see how far along so many projects were. The goofiest example was the twelfth of the QuiltStorm series, QS#12, which was finished except for perhaps 45 minutes of thread-burying. In a rare sun-break -- the City of Roses has been having record-breaking rain this spring -- I took it out on the back porch and finished it up.

Like all of the StormQuilts, it is made out of 100% scrap and recycled materials. In this case, the face and binding are all scrap corduroy. As if that wasn't heavy enough already, I batted it with an old mattress pad. The backing is an old dark blue flannel sheet from a set we discarded last year. Definitely a winter-weight piece.

It's 72" x 48" and quilted exactly like you see in the picture. It has been fun to work in corduroy (I used fabric from the same batch of scraps in SQ11 and in the Mondrian Quilt (which is basically finished except for a hanging sleeve -- another project that has been sitting around teetering on the edge of finished)). Whoops, got lost in my parentheses there. What I meant to say is, it has been fun to work in corduroy because it takes quilting really well. Your lines really stand out in it.

I've been getting some serious quilting on, and I'm going to be able to put some more time into a couple pieces over the next week, so hopefully there will be a parade of smug little "finished" posts occasionally this summer!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Purple and Blue

Here's my first finished piece in however long. I don't really have a name for it, other than Purple and Blue. It's officially Quilt #57 (although it's probably about the 70th quilt I've made. Long story). It measures 69" x 90". And it looks pretty flat & dull here -- my wife ran off for the week with the good camera.

The "inspiration," such as it was, was an attempt to clear out some space in my drawers of blues and purples. Anything scrappy that was longish and narrowish got cut into two-inch strips. I sewed those strips together pretty randomly end-to-end to good a big heap of 100" strips. Here they are hanging on a bamboo pole in the quilt room.

Once I had enough strips, I just laid them out in the hall, making sure that no two pieces of the same fabric were too close to each other, and that none of the join seams in the strips lined up too closely.

After that, it was just a matter of sewing the thing together. It's backed with three pieces of cheap blue and grey flannel sewn together, and batted with a scrap bedspread I found for a pittance at a thrift store. The quilting just follows the vertical grain, with two lines about 1/4 inch from the edge of each strip. It is heavy, and cozy, and is probably the best-looking quilt per hour of time invested I've ever made.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

He Lives...

I've been sneaking in a little quilting...