New Bed Quilt, 4

November 26th, 2019

Having reached the target number of squares, 169, plus a few spares, for the new quilt for our bed, I’m now starting to put it together! But with workmen in several places around the house at the moment, progress has been slow this week.

I started with a basic block theme as per the square in the upper left of this sketch, but from time to time as a new variation came to mind, I added some of those. Overall it’s more varied than I expected than when I began this project.

Variations on a theme – the upper left block is close to what I started with, though that had straight lines. By adding and subtracting lines and seams, making them curved or straight,

I’m pleased with the livelier colours now that more citrusy and warmer greens have been added.

Sewing up the first 7 x 6 group of blocks, ie 122cm x 142cm, 56″x 48″ finished, another 7 x 6 blocks, then a 7x 7 group and a 6 x 6 set will give the right number to the total top.

Colour distribution is extremely important, so I sorted the blocks into heaps of squares in broad colour groups, like citrus, strong yellow, aqua, strong blue, light greeny blues and green, although this is only ‘helpful’, not absolute. By taking a square from each pile to place in every row, and making sure it is not next to the same colour anywhere, I think the result will be evenly distributed colours as in this first quarter.

I’ve found that it matters not one jot which way the squares are oriented, because their differences have become apparent and interesting, and there are lines pointing in every direction 🙂

The spare blocks might come into play at the end if something stands out as ‘wrong’ where it is, as one can be substituted by just undoing the seams around it and sewing in the replacement, though I hope that doesn’t happen too many times. If none of the spares are ‘suitable’, I have enough of the two browns and most other fabrics to make something particular if needed.

Update – I found when I got to the last group there were too many strong greens. so made and substituted a couple using the lighter, geeny citrus.

New Bed Quilt, 3

October 25th, 2019

About 1/3 of the number required are now done. As you just can’t tell until there’s a mass of them whether something that stands out as problematic early on is still annoying in the very large number the final number 180 will include a few extras.

In this first very early pinup version, the arrows on the top row point the opposite way to those on the next, row, and so on. This is one possibility, but there are other layout alternatives pictured below, with comments.

As more colours are added in, still all on the citrus-to-strong blues spectrum, the colour scheme becomes richer and more interesting. Colours are echoed in hand dyes and prints, and I’m loving it. The next two pics are layout alternatives, auditions if you like. So far the first, above, is still my preferred choice.

Layout alternative 2 – Four blocks grouped with arrows all meeting in the centre…. and this is great, until you consider the next group, which is inevitable if this layout is chosen:

Layout alternative 3 – I’d have to lay out lots of these to see if they work well in a large number. A consequence of every pair of blocks being cut freehand is that, as they’re all different, where they meet can look a bit jarring just now. But maybe that won’t matter in the grand scheme, so I’m cool and flexible at this stage!

Other possibilities exist, such as this next one. A couple of simpler but related blocks were made and added in. What I have only just noticed in writing this post is that in the lower left hand corner another possibility suggests itself, and I need to test that with a bunch of blocks –

One thing I could do, with or without either of the above alternatives, is to make some different blocks on the same theme and insert them here and there for variety. I did only 2 which is why they’re the same (See basic construction notes on cutting shapes to fit.)

Another possibility is that blocks could be grouped with triangle shapes in the middle and the blocks bordered and sashed – hmmmm.

Border each group of 4 with the background fabric. I’m not suggesting sashing would actually be this wide – I’m just using offcuts to get the idea of the effect. As I might be running a bit short of background at the end, I’m not keen to cut more than I have to just to play! I’m keeping ALL offcuts, just in case I need to cobble together a few shapes from small scraps!

Freehand or Improv Piecing Basics

October 20th, 2019

I periodically post this set of basic instructions on piecing organic looking patchwork without drafting a pattern. Though it is possible to hand sew here, more complex constructions require cutting and re-piecing, making it a machine piecing technique for most purposes. Writing elsewhere this morning of Nancy Crow, America’s foremost art quilt maker and teacher who assembles her designs by improvisational piecing, I had reason to mention the innovative Canadian quilter Marilyn Stothers who first devised it nearly 35 years ago. Looking for information about it, I found this video: At the time, the rotary cutter was still a very new tool in quiltmaking, so Marilyn is pictured cutting her fabrics with scissors.

At the start of a 1992 4-day workshop on improvisational design in art quilt making, Nancy Crow taught these basics as a fast piecing technique to help us work through the many design exercises for that class. Nancy taught so many quilters how to do this, that for a few years at least it became known as ‘Nancy Crow’s piecing technique’ though now it’s universally known as improvisational or improv.

Freehand or improvisational piecing has become a modern convention which you’ll see everywhere. Some designs may look complicated, but they all involve the same basic steps, and with practice you too will be able to achieve more complex constructions.

The main things to remember are:

  • before cutting, place both fabrics with right sides facing up – yes, that feels counter-intuitive, I know.
  • with no built-in seam allowances, as you cut and sew the area of fabric becomes progressively smaller – so start out larger in anticipation, and add in more if needed.

There are video tutorials available; for example, Alicia Merrett ‘s YouTube videos, are good in a very precise, controlled way, but they were pitched to careful traditional quilters.  Down the years I’ve found my own way of working includes pinning along curves; but there is no ‘correct’ way to do this, and if your result is flat -you’ve got it right. Beyond this, experience will teach you whatever you want to know – think it, try it.  And, if you ever need my advice or help, feel free to contact me directly.

New Bed Quilt, 2.

October 9th, 2019

As I’ve been out of the house for much of today, progress for 3 days might seem slow with 18 squares, but there are so only about another 150 to go, she says with a blithe waive of the hand and a broad smile. I think this will all average out at about 6-8 squares a day, which means the piecing should all be done by early-mid November. There’s no doubt with all straight sewing, this is working up more quickly than it would if there was a curve in the design, at least the way I do them, pinning each curved seam before sewing – that adds up over a large project like this.

Right now I am ready to cut into some lovely citric, greeny-yellow fabric, and there are many more different fabrics in the colours from warm turquoise blues and warm greens that will add up to a lovely colour scheme.

Also, at the moment I’m showing them pinned in rows of blocks oriented in the opposing direction, as per this pic:

An early pic with one layout possibility. Pairs of fabric pieces are being cut freehand and pieced, and as the number grows other possible layouts will be explored. There will be no sashing or borders. The edges will be bound with doubled french binding, showing about 1cm in the front side; my preferred edging technique.

I like this look, but will fiddle with other layout possibilities, such as groups of 4 with all the triangle corners in the centre of the 4 piece block, and will post a pic or two in another few days, so stay posted.

Needing A New Quilt For Our Own Bed

October 4th, 2019

The quilt on our bed is showing ravages of Time, unfortunately, and now I’m in the planning phase of making a new one. I love improvisational piecing of course, so whatever I do it’s a commitment to a fair bit of sewing; but by doing a few units a day I know from experience it won’t take long. Anyway, I have a few recorded books to catch up on 🙂 The quilting of a 2.5m x 2.5m bedspread by machine or hand is something I am not prepared to struggle with these days, and will hire a long arm quilter to handle that part. It’s possibly time to book someone so that I have a deadline …

Earlier this year I bought some wonderful blues and greens from my friend Janet Jo Smith who hand dyes fabrics and teaches that skill. If you live in USA you might like to check her website for what she has or could provide for you. From our daughter’s home in Greeley, Janet Jo is ‘just down the road’ at Morrison CO.

Let me share with you some of what I’m considering. I love grids, and so this will be a patchwork quilt of repeated units, cut and pieced freehand so the blocks will be alike, but not exactly the same as they would be in the finest traditional patchwork.

Is this a traditional block? I think of it as ‘that little sun block’ – shown here in one 4″ x 4″ sample made years ago, and which I love. But it’s probably too small for the size quilt I’m planning. I know it would look marvellous, but sewing 600+ or so little units would be fairly fiddly at that size, and that could take me for ever.

Since early in my post-traditional, freehand piecing period to the present, I’ve used variations of it several times, beginning with Window Onto Bougainville Street :

Window Onto Bougainville St., 1993, detail

I recently came across this small wall quilt, unfinished and untitled, that has been hiding, forgotten, in a cupboard for some years! I really like it, and will complete the hand quilting that in the plain blocks echoes the patchwork pattern. It’s already quilted in the ditch, and I’m still a bit amazed at having forgotten it existed.

Recently this small unfinished quilt turned up from the deep recesses of a seldom emptied cupboard …

In my recent Gramado beginners class, one of the students drew up several diagrams of possibilities for what she had in mind, and among them was an interesting variation which from memory might have been something like this – I remember the corner was a triangle with at least one border around it, but of course in a large unit there could be several rows of border – and then some arrangement of ‘rays’ as in this first pair pictured below. And I like the middle pair too.

In freehand / improvisational piecing, there are no pattern templates, you just cut and sew as you go, seam by seam mostly. No blocks are precisely alike but they are all ‘alike’ to a great degree as a rule. So to me it’s important to take a little time to plan, put my idea into a diagram if necessary, and then take a little more time to make a few samples before setting out on a project.

My little line diagram looked a bit lacking, boring, austere – so adding another two cuts (ie another ray) made it more interesting I feel.

The third pair is way too clunky and out of the question. If I’d trimmed less from those blocks, the pattern parts might have been in more pleasing proportion, but, I was already preferring the two sets above, anyway.

I spent a couple of hours making these, and can tell you that trimmed at (8inches) or 20cm squares, I will need 12×12 units, ie 144 ( always make extras, so 180 or 190 perhaps) to give 240cm per side, which is close to the 2.5m per side I came up with flinging the tape measure over the bed the other day. Once I’ve decided which pattern to use, I will cut pieces of fabric about 25cm x 25cm – rough, not precise – and then will begin cutting and sewing. In the quilt I’m planning, the murky browny green colour will appear in every block and therefore will be the ‘background’ colour, paired with the greens, blues and citrus colours and prints in every block.

The positive and negative looking blocks result from the rotary cut, pattern-free method I use. With two pieces of fabric, one on top of the other, and with both sides facing up, cut through the layers with the rotary cutter to the shapes you want. As the cutter slices through both fabrics at the same time, the edge shapes match exactly when you take them apart and rearrange to sew together. Experience has taught me that 2, 3 and 4 layers of fabric are fine; but unless the rotary blade is new and very sharp, 5 fabrics is a bit more difficult, and with 6 the fabric layers tend to shift ever so slightly, and some of the edges do not match so well, so 6 is the maximum with a very new blade and some care. Plus – and this is important – the layers you cut through and rearrange all need to be set out and sewn together one unit at a time, and the groupings need a ruler or something to hold them down until it’s their turn, otherwise it is very easy to get them hopelessly mixed up, particularly if you have a companionable cat or a breezy crossflow from doors or windows in your work area!

Basic arcs, using 4 fabrics, lower left; cut three times. Two options to arrange:
Option 1 –upper left rearrange so there is one segment of every colour in each unit.
Option 2 – right rearrange so each unit comprises pairs of 2 colours
Anna’s quilt, 2007.

I’ve used arcs or quadrants a number of times – such as in the start of a quilt I made for daughter Anna years back. The quilt that is wearing out features a large section of these blocks arranged into ‘circles’ but much as I love the pattern, I don’t intend to use them again.

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