Thursday, April 21, 2016

What Shade Are You?

I was honored to be asked to participate in a blog hop featuring Cotton Supreme Solids from RJR Fabrics.

I felt overwhelmed when I opened the envelope from RJR and looked at the color card I had been sent. There were so many beautiful colors that my brain seized up. I could pick any palette I wanted, but WHICH one? After I worried about it for a few minutes, I made a deal with myself that I would open up the color card again and instantly choose the one color that I liked the best for the beginning of the palette. So, I did.

(drumroll please....)


I was pondering what colors to add to Syrah when we visited the little town of West Liberty, Iowa one Saturday afternoon. We went to pick up items from some friends that were moving, then stopped at a fun panaderia for a treat.  After picking out a variety of rolls, cookies and pastries (for $4.50!!!), we drove around looking for a place to eat. We found the beautifully restored Rock Island Depot and I started getting excited. Syrah was everywhere! The building was several tones of gold and was accented with a deep terracotta tiled roof and surrounded by burgundy paving bricks. There was a red caboose out front and an old green wagon parked near a door. While I looked around, my children eagerly tore into the rolls and were surprised to find one filled with a delicious orange sugar paste. They played on the playground and ran back between adventures to cram in another bite of something delicious. The sun was warm, the sky blue, and the day peaceful and pleasant.

Here is a link to some pictures of the Depot if you'd like to take a virtual look around.

I decided to memorialize that wonderful day into a quilt. I ended up choosing 20 colors from the color card (one was even called croissant, how perfect is that?) and piecing in thin strips of several brown shades. I cut each strip at roughly 3/4," so depending on my seam allowance each one of the lines is about 1/4." I'm not sure if the idea for using the brown lines came from thinking about railroad tracks, but I do know that I was looking for a way to help unify all the colors. I had the thought that all of the different color voices were singing the same song, so I named the quilt "Harmony."

 Originally, I had all of the blocks cut at 4 1/2" wide and set vertically. I liked it. I wondered if I could change it up a little bit and turn my like into love. I sliced into blocks I had already made and flipped them over to a horizontal set. That did the trick. I also tried graduating the width of the strips for a little more interest.

 Slicing into the blocks wasn't the only surgery I performed, either. I basted this quilt very early in the morning while it was still dark outside. In my defense, I am normally a very careful baster because I adore flat quilts and generally use solids in my backings (where every pucker is completely visible). When I laid the flimsy on top of the batting, I must have been lining it up with a shadow instead of my tape because the quilt went on completely skewed. Of course I didn't notice this before I trimmed off some of the excess backing fabric. %$#@! At that point there was nothing I could do about it but start over, and that seemed pretty drastic. I started doing the straight line quilting and tried to hope for the best. I had quilted about half of the quilt and was growing more disappointed by the minute. Who wants to feel that way when you've spent so much time piecing the top? That's when I embraced a new quilting maxim.

Once is a mistake. Twice is a design element.

I created another strip of striped fabric and cut away some of the backing fabric in a diagonal that went the opposite way. I carefully attached my new fabric panel and then pressed the unquilted portions obsessively to make sure I preserved my flat finish. Voila! If anyone asks, I totally meant to do it. Just consider my backing to be social commentary on how we are "greater than" our mistakes.

 "Harmony" finishes at 49" x 70." I used Quilter's Dream Request batting and quilted it simply with Aurifil thread in Brass, Copper Brown and Medium Peony.

I knew there would be a giveaway with the fabrics I used in this challenge, and I could just hear the winner saying, "Gosh Jill, thanks SO much for ALL THE BROWN!!" With that in mind, I brought Syrah back out for another go.

I love to listen to music while I sew, so I peruse Spotify a lot looking for great playlists. One day I found the perfect match. The album was called "Feel Good Folk Pop." I'm not a big one for assigning labels to who I am and what I make. I am a quilter. Period. But, I could totally see myself claiming the label of a "Feel Good Folk Pop Quilter." I listened to that album the entire time I worked with this quilt, starting with fabric selection and ending with the last few stitches of the hanging sleeve. The vibe is strong, so you can imagine my despair when I noticed a few days ago that Spotify had changed the name of the album to "Feelgood Acoustics." It just doesn't have the same ring. :-(

I didn't have an overall vision for the quilt when I started, I just knew that I would do a log cabin variation. I used to add so much stress to my life trying to control the outcome of a quilt. Now I know that my strength lies more in responding to a start than in beginning with the ultimate design or a perfected concept. I like the challenge of looking at a pile of scraps from the construction of a block and using them to make the next block. The pineapples I made produced a lot of triangle scraps, so I used them to make flying geese and other triangle drawings. Inspiration sometimes comes in immediacy, too. I opened up my email and saw a message from AQS. In it, they had included a block for the AQS QuiltWeek Row Quilt called Paducah Row (here is a link). I thought it looked neat, so I altered the proportions and made the chubby crosses that are sprinkled across the quilt. Mostly I just sang along with my playlist and made blocks. If I really liked them, I made more variations. If I sort of liked them, I stopped there. I had so much fun experimenting with this quilt. I think you can probably tell that it was a happy experience for me.

I made two important design decisions in this quilt. The first was choosing to quilt with invisible thread. I started considering how to handle the quilting after I saw the huge color contrast I had in the blocks. I auditioned lots of colors, including some exact matches, and was unhappy with all of them. In frustration, I called my friend Sarah who is a longarmer and former art teacher. She talked me through my options and taught me some basic color theory, the gist of which being that I had a quilt full of complementary colors and finding a thread color I could live with would be hard. I was nervous about using invisible thread, but my concerns were unfounded. I found a spool at my LQS (thanks, Cassie!) and bought a pack of tiny 65/9 needles. I didn't have any problems with melting, stretching or popping. Most importantly, though, the colors and piecing were allowed to shine.

The last important decision was choosing to face the quilt rather than bind. I knew the quilt wasn't perfectly square (that's hard to do with a free-pieced quilt if you don't plan on doing some heavy trimming at the end) and I was really reluctant to add a solid line to a quilt top that didn't have any of them. I had never done a facing before, but it wasn't too difficult. I found a tutorial from Victoria Gertenbach that was impeccably done. If you'd like to try a quilt facing, I highly recommend her tutorial at The Silly BooDilly.

"Feel Good Folk Pop" finishes at 49" x 49" (ish). I used Quilter's Dream Request batting and quilted it simply with a combination of Aurifil in Violet and Superior Threads MonoPoly.

Lastly, since this is a blog post about solids, I wanted to say a few words about them. I use solids because they are cheaper, they offer a higher contrast than prints (subtlety really isn't my thing) and because I have a wider array of colors available to me. I noticed in the last year or so that I have been using mostly solids while the rest of my stash sits idle, so I decided to do something about it. Last fall I started destashing some valuable pieces. Between that and a gift certificate I had, I was able to buy 117 half yard cuts of solid fabric. Most of them were Cotton Supreme Solids from RJR. I like building a palette from the fabric itself rather than a color card (although those are nice when it comes time to reorder), and I wanted to increase the amount of choices I had. With that many cuts, you know I wasn't just picking out the colors that I liked or that appealed to me. So many times it is the color that you didn't necessarily want that you end up desperately needing. Those are the colors that are the perfect conversationalists...they talk to all of the fabrics and draw them into the group. In the last series of quilts that I did, that color was On The Rocks. If you look at that grouping, it is the very lightest gray that you see that has the slightest of a cool green tint. It was the perfect "glue" fabric. In "Harmony," the color that lifts that whole quilt (in my opinion) is Gingko, the best green-yellow I have in my stash. Finally, in Feel Good Folk Pop, the color is Denim.This color is a great background player that maintains a presence while making the other colors look good. I'll definitely be reordering yardage of that one.

Thanks again to RJR Fabrics for asking me to be a part of this series. I enjoyed it immensely.

Colors used in "Harmony:" Syrah, Bowood, Bowood Red, Cocoa, Espresso, Noel Red, Bordeaux, Brick Red, Morocco, Yum Yum Yam, Butternut, Saffron, Gingko, Hedge, Goldilocks, Slate, Denim, Gale Force, Mermaid, Kona Cofe, Croissant

Colors used in "Feel Good Folk Pop:" Syrah, Brick Road, Arabian Nights, Tropicana, Cantaloupe, Marvelous, Aubergine, Amethyst, Feeling Blue, Blue Bayou, Mermaid, Denim and Dottie in Gelato from Cotton + Steel

Linking up to Finish it up Friday at Crazy Mom Quilts.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Raw Materials

Right after I finished "Diamond Sky," I started perusing the internet for different quilt shows to enter or challenges to join. I saw that International Quilt Festival in Chicago was coming up and that there was a special challenge to make a quilt that showcased the classic drunkards path block. I decided to play along!

My husband and I took our children to the local Catholic church for a sing-a-long on Christmas Eve and a light went off in my head. There were drunkards path motifs everywhere and so beautifully done! The colors of the paintings and stained glass were sublime. We came back for Christmas Mass and I sat in the pew and drank in the architecture, design, and color work. I went home incredibly inspired and immediately went to my sketchbook to rough out my ideas and to make notes about the colors. I figured that when you are inspired in a church (of all places!!!) that the design has a divine stamp of approval and is destined to work out.

I was wrong.

After I chose a range of colors that reflected the cool tranquility and majesty of the church, I started making improvisationally pieced drunkards path blocks. After I'd made about 100 of them in various sizes, I went on to the sunburst part of my idea and it all went TERRIBLY WRONG. Instead of achieving the perfectly imperfect look that I love so much, I ended up with some really bad looking circles. @#$%&#@!!! Normally I would have kept working on it until I could make a success of the design, but seeing those circles brought up a deeply repressed memory. I put a quilt into the state fair last year that had some free-cut shapes as flower centers. It didn't win any ribbons and when I got the judging form back I could see why. My handwork element had been graded as "poor." I had that quilt spread out on the hood of my car as soon as I got back to the parking lot looking for the flaw in my work. I finally figured out that to the judge's perception, those free-cut flower centers looked like poorly executed circles. Now, beyond needing to enter an applique piece in the state fair this year to defend my honor, I knew I could not make another "I Wasn't Trying to Make a Circle!" quilt. So, I walked away from my original idea and tried to make lemonade with 100 drunkards path blocks.

My dad was a farmer and a maker. To help fuel his creativity and supply our farm with necessary implements, he kept a pile of metal junk behind our shop, though he never called it that. He referred to his collection as “raw materials.” One afternoon I was texting with my brothers and we started reminiscing about dad's scrap heap. That conversation was a key turning point in the evolution of this quilt. I stopped thinking of the units as blocks and instead imagined them as raw materials to draw with. I built improvisational pictures entirely out of drunkards path units. I saw that the quilt needed the addition of darker values and the pictures needed space to breathe, so I added the filmstrip sashing. The little twinkles of gold in the sashing and binding are a homage to the church and the intent of the original quilt design.

The quilt finishes at 50" x 54." I used Warm and Natural batting and Aurifil thread in #1246 (Grey), which is my new favorite color since it reads as more like slate than grey. I quilted a gentle curving line to mimic the curve of the blocks and then echoed that line over the rest of the quilt.

The heart is my favorite!

I had plenty of strips and fabric leftovers from the piecing of "Raw Materials," so in keeping with my new commitment to active and immediate scrap management, I began another quilt.

Recently I entered a major quilt show and all of my entries were rejected. I was feeling a little sorry for myself one morning in the sewing room and staring at a bucket of mostly blue scraps. As luck would have it, the next song that popped up on my playlist was by Johnny Cash. He sang:

"Hey, get rhythm when you get the blues
C'mon get rhythm, when you get the blues
A jumpy rhythm makes you feel so fine
It'll shake all the troubles from your worried mind,
Get rhythm, when you get the blues."

I chose the simple shape of the upward arrow as a reminder of the power of a positive mind and repeated it over and over in black (another nod to Mr. Cash) to create the "jumpy rhythm" he describes. I had intended to scale it in a mini size, but once I had those first pieced strips up on the design wall, I knew that I'd be going bigger. I ended up cutting (lots) more fabric. There went my scrap management plan!

Since these strips were improvisationally pieced and quite long at about 60," I had to employ every strategy I knew to keep this quilt from ruffling. I used up a whole bottle of starch, lots of steam and the cutting techniques I've learned to piece in gentle curves. My cutting table is only a yard long, so I used chalk to mark out the curve that I needed to cut to match each strip. I had my pencil cups holding down the strips to keep them from shifting and used lots of marks to keep everything lined up. It was a challenge. Despite surprising my children by showing up at school to pick them up with a piece of chalk behind my ear and my hair and cheek liberally adorned with white dust, the fact that the quilt is suspended and hanging flat and straight of its own volition is a major victory for me. Hopefully, my kids will forget (or forgive....eventually) the chalk incident.

The quilt finishes at 38" x 58." I used Warm and Natural batting again with the 50 wt. Aurifil in Grey. It is quilted simply with vertical lines.

As I've said before, I enjoy a challenge and I join in on swaps for the chance to make something that I wouldn't normally make. I currently am involved in a pillow swap that was organized by @littleislandquilting and @imasavonasac. This has been a great swap so far because Alison and Sami took so much time determining the perfect partnerships. As a result, my partner and I already followed each other on Instagram. During the making of the previous two quilts, she actively participated and commented on the progress shots so I knew she approved of the palette.  I sandwiched a thin strip of black between scrap strips, then squared the block down to 2.5." Once it was all pieced together, a sweet friend on IG mentioned that the blocks looked like Allsorts (a black licorice candy). That wasn't my plan, but I am now pretending that it was. Thus, the name..."The Allsorts Pillow." Once again, this is quilted with straight lines in Grey Aurifil and has my first hidden zipper! It finishes at a 20" square.

After the pillow, I was down to a container filled with random strips, smallish squares and triangle clippings from "Get Rhythm." At this time, our little family also had a loss. As with the previous times, I've retreated into myself and my sewing room for some therapy. I took great solace in stitching those little bits of nothing into something and pulling myself together again simultaneously. This quilt represents the process of all those things. I called it "Windows" because the making of it helped me look up and out again to what I hope will be a bright, beautiful day.

"Windows" finishes at 38" x 44." It used Quilter's Dream Puff batting and a 40 wt. Aurifil thread in Champagne (pale yellow). It is quilted simply with vertical lines.

Here's a little behind the scene shot that I couldn't resist adding. Sons #1 and #2 are great sports.
So many times in the making of these quilts (and in my life), I had to step back from my preconceptions and do my best to accept and reshape the reality into something I could live with. There is meaning, beauty and blessings to be found in the struggle, even when we pray that the struggle can pass us by. I am thankful for my daily habit of sewing and creating. Slowly it has changed my mindset so I am always looking for the possibilities with optimism and a growing faith in my capabilities. We *can* do hard things.

This week I received some fantastic news. The International Quilt Festival in Chicago accepted all three of my entries for their show. "Raw Materials," "Get Rhythm (When You Get the Blues)," and "Heading West" will all be hanging there April 7-9. Chicago is not that far from our home in Iowa, so we're planning a road trip. It's a relief to not only end February, but to end February on a make. I hope I can see some of you there.

Linking up to Finish it Up Friday at Crazy Mom Quilts.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Diamond Sky

My two year old daughter has many pastimes, but one of her favorites is to sit on my lap and watch the music clips from Aladdin on YouTube. She watches all of the songs intently, but completely zeroes in on "A Whole New World." Her eyes sparkle, she smiles and she even tries to sing along. There is something about flying, exploring and SEEING on that magic carpet that really captures her attention.

(Princess Jasmine:)
Unbelievable sights
Indescribable feelings
Soaring, tumbling, freewheeling
Through an endless diamond sky
A whole new world!

I've listened to that song a million times, but I never sang along with as much fervor as I did the day after I had a checkup at the doctor's office last month. During the course of a routine set of labs, it was discovered that my thyroid wasn't performing very well. My doctor prescribed me a teeny dosage of thyroid medication and KA-CHOW!!! A whole new world, indeed! Let's just say these quilts look exactly how I feel right now.

I originally chose this color run of 18 fabrics to fulfill the requirements for the Rainbow Mini Swap. I'm not so in love with swaps in general, but I love the challenge of doing something that I wouldn't normally do. This is my first rainbow quilt and I am sorry that it took me so long! Working with these colors was the perfect antidote to winter blahs. This quilt finishes at 12" x 24." I quilted it in a matchstick design with grey Aurifil thread and used a scrap of Quilter's Dream Request for the batting.

I had been considering a different log cabin variation and thought that a making a mini would be a pretty painless way to test it out. I constructed this quilt using a method that I keep coming back to. I made myself a scaled piecing map that I slipped slabs of improvisational piecing into. I've done this in The Lovely Woods, Red Letter Day, Heading West and Tumble. As I've gone along with this process two things have happened--I've gotten a whole lot better about estimating size and my scaled models have gotten smaller. For these quilts, I used blocks of four different sizes: 2.5" squares, 3.5" squares, 2.5" x 3.5" rectangles and 2.5" x 4.5" rectangles. I drew out the whole quilt, colored in my fabric choices, free cut all of my fabric into strips and started building from left to right. After piecing the first small chunk of reds, I discovered that I didn't need to fully complete the last round of background fabrics for every block. I started peeking around at my design wall every time to determine which sides of the rainbow log cabin needed a gray spacer. Not only did this cut down the number of seams on a piece that already had a million of them, it also added to the "soaring, tumbling, freewheeling" effect and disguised the mechanics of my construction seams. You may have to look hard, but there are definitely lots of long straight seams in these quilts!

I was very happy with how the mini worked out, so I expanded my plan to finish one at 18" x 36" to keep. In the smaller version, I had used two different shades of heathered gray for the background. The two-tone effect was very subtle, but still noticeable. I wondered if the difference in the fabrics could be amplified if I concentrated the lighter tone of gray with the lighter log cabin blocks. I think it created a luminescent, shimmery glow in the center, but I'll leave it to you to decide if it was worth the extra bother. I quilted this mini in a straight line design with grey thread and a scrap of Warm and Natural batting. 

I've been struggling with my feelings about my scraps recently. I am careful to save, categorize and store and have been feeling burdened by all of the boxes of fabric scrap stuff that fill up my sewing space. I attempted to actually use my carefully curated collection a couple of different times over Christmas break with uninspiring results. The part of the quilting process that I derive the most pleasure from is the interaction of color. To say that it just didn't do anything for me to start combining random solids together is putting it mildly. So, I challenged myself to use my project scraps to make something/clean up and keep Mt. Saint Scrapmore manageable. I used up every last free cut strip from my basket except for about an 8" strip of the lightest pink. I can live with that. This mini was completely inspired by Nancy Crow. If you also have a lot of strings in your scrap basket and don't feel inspired to use them, I highly recommend her book called Nancy Crow. It isn't an instruction book, just an archive of her quilts. I pretty much have it on permanent check out from my guild's library collection, but I've also seen it in my public library. Look and see if you can find it somewhere as it's definitely worth checking out. This mini finishes at 17" x 17." I quilted it in the ditch with Aurifil thread in dove and used a scrap of Quilter's Dream Wool for the batting.

The weather totally didn't cooperate for my plans on the photo shoot and I was bummed. My neighbors have the most beautifully patterned concrete on their front stoop and I thought it would be a great backdrop for all those rainbow colors to really shine. By the time I got over there, though, a warm snap had started the snow melting, gotten that lovely concrete all wet and completely obscured the pattern. I thought about it all night and was so excited to wake up to a foggy morning and a new idea. I dropped my boys off at school and took my daughter out to the same place where I shot The Lovely Woods. I was able to find a few cooperating branches and used a combination of clothes pins and safety pins to get the shots I needed very quickly. Since coming home I've changed my socks, shoes, pants and shared a cup of hot chocolate with my intrepid assistant. Totally worth it. 

This whole process has been a great reminder to look for the rainbows, the opportunities AND the silver linings. Happy new year!

Linking up to Finish It Up Friday at Crazy Mom Quilts.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Some quilts are just meant to be.

I picked out the fabrics I used in this quilt with the intention of making a pillow for the Pillow Talk Swap on Instagram. One sunny Saturday afternoon I took the stack of fabric near a bright window to snap a picture with my phone. My husband always makes fun of the people who include their toes and/or shoes in pictures, so noticing that the shoes I was wearing actually matched the fabric, I smirked and included them in the shot just for him.

It was fate.

I really love these shoes, but, truthfully, they are a little big on me. The next day we went for a Sunday walk and in the midst of a lovely visit on a perfect fall day, my right foot stepped off the sidewalk and onto the grass. It was the smallest of missteps and disaster didn't strike until I tried to regain my balance with the bulk of my weight on the opposite foot. That's when my foot slid around in my too-big shoes, was sprained pretty badly, and I ended up as a heap on the sidewalk.


In less than a second, I was surrounded by my husband and children. They were so concerned! My bleeding hands were examined. My back was patted. My pants were brushed off. Tears were shed on my behalf. The boys took turns walking their scooters next to me as I limped home. My daughter heard me tell my husband that my hands were on fire and kept pressing her cool fingers against my scratched palms to make sure I was okay. Once we got home, Daddy was carefully supervised while he helped me lay down on the couch with my foot propped up. My boys brought over the glass of water that I swallowed the Tylenol with. I closed my eyes and tried to rest.

That SO wasn't happening. I didn't have my eyes closed for 30 seconds before the first child sidled up to me and asked, "So what's for dinner?" Within the space of 5 minutes, all three of them had found a time to individually approach the couch to wonder about my dinner plans. The questioning may have been a little jarring and a bit inappropriate at that particular time, but I do get a kick out of my three little foodies. I love making bread and recently have discovered Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day. We've been systematically working our way through his recipes and the kids have been loving every minute of it. My seven year old was surprised when no one at his lunch table was as excited as he was that I'd packed a Nutella sandwich on brioche for his lunch. Just yesterday I was reading a book with some Spanish vocabulary in it to my little girl. I asked her if she remembered what the Spanish word for 'hi' was and she emphatically answered, "CHALLAH!" I didn't correct her. I think pie is pretty universal for hospitality and challah definitely counts as least in my world.

So, with this experience fresh in my mind, I went back to the fabrics I had originally chosen and started thinking. What I finally decided on was that my fabric choices were very gentle and soothing. I thought it would be fun to add two more colors to work as the jarring, insistent question in that sea of quiet solicitation. I chose the hot pink and turquoise because I knew that they would vibrate next to each other. I used this combination as the center of every log cabin block that I constructed. I love how all the differently shaped centers help to create movement and make the name "Tumble" work for more reasons than just my embarrassing fall.

I made log cabin units in sizes that would be easy to tile together. The smallest blocks are 2.5" x 2.5," and the largest are 6.5" x 8.5."

Somewhere in the middle of piecing the 20" square I decided that my Pillow Talk partner wouldn't be receiving this as a pillow. I also decided to enlarge it to the 35" x 35" it is right now. I matchstick quilted this with Aurifil #1246 (grey). I also used the super-thin Quilter's Dream Request batting.

I took the quilt to the local recycling center with the awesome concrete walls (and convenient protruding bolts) for the pictures. I thought it seemed fitting for the quilt that became something different twice in its life. I also took a picture of it with the shoes that I love/hate because they seem to be cosmically linked. The coordinating socks were a happy accident.

Don't worry about my swap partner, either! I went back to her IG wall and found a picture of a cashmere scarf that she loved. Fully intending to purchase it, but waiting for it to drop lower in price, she ended up missing out. This pillow was inspired by the scarf she loved and does not own.

I'd like to end by sharing that my "Heading West" quilt won the Original Design category in the Blogger's Quilt Festival a few weeks ago and that "Finding Jade" was nominated for a Viewer's Choice award. For those of you that took the time to nominate/vote for these quilts, you have my heartfelt thanks. It truly means a lot.

Linking up to Finish it Up Friday at Crazy Mom Quilts.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Finding Jade: The Blogger's Quilt Festival Edition

When I was a little girl, I loved to play in my mother's jewelry box. My favorite piece was a small jade pendant that had been hand carved into the shape of an elephant. I had no special affinity for elephants then (or now), I just knew that the color was perfect and that I liked running my fingers over the smooth, cool stone. I asked my mom once if I'd ever be able to find a piece of jade that I could keep. She assured me that I could and in those hot summers when we lived in a tiny travel trailer on our farm, she would send me out into the gravel driveway to look for some. I must have picked up every green rock in a hundred yard radius. Twice. I would carry in handfuls for my mom to look at while she was making supper "No," she'd say. "Not quite. Try something lighter/darker." I wonder how many suppers she cooked with me out in the driveway scanning for the perfect shade of green. Maybe that's when I fell in love with color. I know for sure that's where I became an optimist!

 That memory popped right into my head when I was gifted a bag of narrow scraps from a Kona Cotton Grecian Waters collection. I haven't spent a lot of time out on the water, but I have spent plenty of time with a small jade pendant in my hand, so that's immediately where my mind went. I pulled out every solid and shot cotton I had and held up each piece next to the scraps. I researched the different colors jade could be, and that's how that lilac shade ended up in the quilt. I enjoy buying solids on sale and will purchase a half yard of pretty much any color I can get my hands on. That strategy paid off with this quilt since I ended up having the kryptonite greens and lavenders in my stash. Neither of those colors are ones that I would be excited to purchase in a store off the bolt, but they are the colors that make this quilt sing.

My birthday present each year is a day away. My husband takes one of his personal days at work so he can watch our children and I can go to a workshop. My guild does a great job getting amazing instructors. In the last three years I have been to classes taught by Amanda Jean Nyberg (Crazy Mom Quilts), Bill Kerr (Modern Quilt Studio) and Jacquie Gering (Tallgrass Prairie Studios). This year it was Jacquie Gering. She came to teach a class on improvisational log cabins. I didn't go into the experience with any great master plan, I just figured that I would listen to what she had to say with an open mind and be inspired. As soon as she mentioned that pineapple blocks were part of the log cabin family, I got excited and wanted to get to work as fast as I could. I loved the radiating arrows in the pineapple block, and somehow those arrows felt right at home with the concept of "Finding Jade." As a little bit of fun, I did make sure to include a block that used each of the log cabin variations that Jacquie mentioned.

I don't have any magic strategy tips for how I set the quilt. I made sixteen blocks of different sizes before I joined any together. Of those sixteen blocks, I put four of them aside (one ended up on the back of the quilt). The four rejects weren't ugly blocks, they just didn't fit with the direction the other twelve were going in. Later I ended up making my mom a set of oven mitts for her birthday from one of the leftover blocks. If you'd like to see them, you can check out my Instagram feed. Making a bunch of blocks in the beginning was a freeing experience. I tried to do something a little different each time I made a block, and it took me in some interesting directions. I would stop and look at the design wall after I finished each one, and I could see where I needed to go next. I keep a Post-it pad near my sewing machine and I would make notes to myself so I would remember what my impressions were if there was a break in my concentration (like needing to feed my kids breakfast and get them out the door for school on time!). Those notes helped me make work more efficiently because I didn't have to waste time reorienting myself the next time I had some time to sew.

When it came time to start joining blocks, I squared the pieces down and made a note of the size. I  kept track of the sizes as I built. Once I built my first unit, I knew its measurements and could build other units in appropriate sizes. The key word there is appropriate. The sections got massive and the measurements got more approximate. In the end, I decided that I would rather have a square-ish quilt and preserve the piecing rather than start hacking away at it with a rotary cutter and ruler. Since I've made this quilt I have experimented with different ways to make improv fit in the spaces I want it to fit in. I've gotten more proficient at piecing to a certain scale and my eyeballing has gotten more accurate. My best tip is to use starch and to press the blocks very well as you go. I love using shot cotton, but that fabric can get so billowy when doing improv. The starching and ironing seem to keep it under control. The other thing I've learned to do is to embrace the irregular. Recently, I made an entire quilt without using a ruler (except for the binding). It was a very freeing experience, plus, I learned that I really love the look of the gentle curve you can achieve when you lose the ruler. Sometimes improv can go square and sometimes it can't. I'm still exploring that difference.

This quilt finished at 50" x 60" (ish).

The thought I wanted to leave you with is this. I never found jade in that driveway. I did find a lot of great green rocks. I discovered that if I ran them under the hose, that the color changed and patterns would emerge. Somewhere along the way I figured out that I could carefully paint them with clear nail polish so that they'd stay beautiful even when the water dried. By the time I was done picking out all of the green rocks in the driveway, I had quite a collection of beautiful stones.

I know that if you go out looking for beauty, you'll find it. Keep looking! It's there.

I have entered this into the Modern category of the Blogger's Quilt Festival at Amy's Creative Side.


Heading West

I am from Idaho and every year we load up the minivan with supplies and children and start our annual trek west. Normally we go on I-80 through Iowa, Nebraska and the really barren part of Wyoming. Our boys have shown an increased interest in geography lately, so this year we decided to try a different route. We headed north to catch I-90 and went through Minnesota and South Dakota before dropping down through Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming) into Montana and then Idaho. I wish I had words to describe what a beautiful drive that was, but all I can really say is that I had my nose pressed against the window the entire time, my camera in my hand and my sketchbook on my lap. Somewhere in Yellowstone I sketched out these trees and a note to myself for the colors I was thinking of using.

The design was still percolating in my mind when I flew home to Idaho later in the summer. I'm pretty sure I had my nose pressed against the plane window the entire time, too. I found the aerial view very compelling and loved seeing the landscape from a different perspective. Looking down at all those fields was the inspiration for the log cabin blocks.

During my first trip out this summer, I was lucky enough to have a gift card and an opportunity to go to my mom's local quilt store in Preston, Idaho (Suppose). They have an entire wall of solids that I could choose from IN PERSON! That's a luxury I wish I could repeat more often! I took in my notes with color notations and had a fantastic time pulling bolts down to build a story with. I chose 14 half yard cuts to start, then added more from my own stash once I got home. I still had a bunch of the deep spice tones from our Marsala year and I love how those dark neutrals made the bolder choices sing out even more strongly. There are more than 30 different fabrics in this quilt. If you are interested, I took a picture of the palette and shared it on my Instagram wall.

I was about halfway done with the piecing when I was looking at my Instagram feed one morning. I read the description for a swap mosaic and almost shot my drink out of my nose I was laughing so hard. The poster mentioned how she loved all colors and would appreciate pretty much anything, then added, "well, other than those barfy yellows and browns...but who uses those anyway??!!" I had to tell my concerned two-year old that everything was fine and that Mama was just having a "moment." She knew what that was because I'd had another "moment" not that long ago. I stopped into Jo-Ann with all three of my children in tow to quickly pick up some supplies. They were a little busy and there was a new employee on the cash register. She was struggling a bit and trying to hustle. When it was our turn, I put the zippers and basting spray on the counter and started digging in my wallet for the debit card. I was interrupted not by my children, but by the harried cashier. "Ma'am, I'm going to need to see your ID, please." I stopped digging and looked up with surprise. "Okay," I said, "What for...?" She gestured to the can of basting spray on the counter and said matter-of-factly, "...because you need to be at least 18 to buy that." I knew she was having the world's worst day and I didn't want to laugh at her, but it took every ounce of my emotional fortitude to calmly hand over my driver's license, pay and get out of the store before I was overtaken by a massive fit of giggles. It wasn't pretty. Once we were in the minivan there was plenty of wheezing, hand-fanning and eye wiping. My boys tried to put an end to it pretty quickly, but I got it together long enough to wag a quasi-threatening finger at them and choke out, "Don't you ruin my moment!!! I am going to be coasting on this one for a LOOOOONG time!!" And then I started laughing again. Carded at Jo-Ann...I love it.

I cut multiple strips from each fabric in 1.25" and 1.75" widths and put them in a bucket next to my sewing machine. I spent at least a week just piecing log cabins. I aimed for finished sizes that would be easy to tile like 2" x 4," 4" x 6," 4" x 8," 4" x 4," 6" x 6," etc. Piecing the log cabins was great fun, but if I got tired of them, I'd take a break and do some trees instead. I discovered some really unexpected color combinations and I've enjoyed looking at the quilt and seeing the blocks that I thought would be complete disasters that I ended up loving. Just a small hit of a glaring clash can add so much interest.

Once I had a huge stack of blocks, I started tiling on my design wall. I started with the trees in a diagonal set because it reminded me of the mountains, then I filled in with the log cabin blocks. I had to make a few extra at the end to get the color dispersion just right. Those were the really interesting blocks because I was setting color limits. I'd think, "Okay, I need a four incher and I can't use gold, green or that really dark brown..." This quilt finished at 45" x 60" precisely because that's as big as it could get and still fit on my design wall.

I quilted this in a matchstick design with Aurifil thread. I experimented with a different batting, Quilter's Dream Request (their thinnest cotton batting), and am happy with the nice flat finish I got. I also used an entire bottle of starch in the construction of this quilt, so it could be that, too! The other thing that I did differently with this quilt was the label. My quilt guild invited a quilt historian/appraiser to be our speaker this month and she made a powerful case for the historical importance of labeling our quilts. She also showed a quilt from her personal collection from every decade since the 1850s and it really put what we do in perspective. In all likelihood, the quilts we make will outlive us. Sometimes they might even outlive us by generations. Since I feel like I tell a story, I'd like those people who haven't been born yet to know who it was that was telling them that story. It's part of the legacy. Since I'd already quilted the registration lines across the quilt and had lost the chance to piece a label into the back, I made one more block, wrote my information on it, appliqued it onto the back and finished quilting on top of it. That sucker is never coming off. It feels good to know that the quilt and I will ride off into the sunset of history together. Kind of fitting for a quilt called Heading West*, right?

*I really did consider Barfy Yellows and Browns, but I decided to just tell all of you instead. Can you even imagine my grandchildren trying to work that one out?

I am entering this quilt into the Original Design category in the Blogger's Quilt Festival at Amy's Creative Side.

Also linking to Finish it up Friday at Crazy Mom Quilts.

The back with the label.