Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Prompts and Scraps

I know I've mentioned this story before, but when I was certifying as an elementary teacher, our class was mentored by Dr. D. He was a practicing teacher who had seen it all and a delightful change to the textbook theory. He told us how important choice was to student learning, but that our role as the educator was to provide boundaries to the choices for guidance. He famously said, "You can have anything in the world you want for breakfast! (Pause) Do you want Wheaties or Cheerios?" I love having unlimited creative impulses, but I also love narrowed choices. There's something about working with constraints (whether that be a prompt or a pile of scraps) that unleashes something in me.

Hopefully you like prompts and scraps because that is what this post will be about today.

I followed along with Season 11 of Project Quilting this year and made a quilt (or two) for every prompt. The point of Project Quilting is to start and finish a project based upon the announced theme in one week. I removed the time element for myself and only used the prompt as a starting point. You can visit for more details. The prompts this year were:

1. Notably Numeric
2. Team Colors
3. Put a Heart On It
4. Birds in the Air
5. Give it Away
6. Vibrant and Vivacious

Notably Numeric
"This is 42," 40" x 46."

Last year to celebrate my birthday, I made a quilt with 41 improv half square triangles in it. I felt like the quilt was a good representation of where I was and I thought it might be a good idea to revisit each year as my yearly quilty journal entry.

The "Notably Numeric" prompt was too obvious to ignore.

This quilt was made with 42 pieces of fabric from my scrap bin. I've made quilts with this checkerboard motif before, but  had always used a ruler to straighten the edges of the units before joining them. I didn't this time. The pieces of black "mortar" fabric were necessary to smooth out some troublesome transitions. That decision felt pretty emblematic. At 42, there are definitely some parts of me that are held together with duct tape! I didn't want the black to take away from the design, so I embellished with plus signs in gold 8 wt. thread. That decision is also emblematic. Life is better with a happy outlook.

I was thinking about this quilt when an arborist visited our house this week. Six years ago, my husband snuck out in the middle of the night and planted a weeping crab apple tree outside of my sewing room window as my Mother's Day present. I love that tree. Looking out at it every day (and the beautiful birds it attracts) gives me immense pleasure. I've been so sad this spring because a section in the front hasn't budded or bloomed. The arborist came yesterday to render an opinion. The verdict is that the tree is alive, well and disease-free, but will suffer from a misshapen appearance for years until branches can grow to fill in that space. She told us that if that bothered us, the tree could be removed. Um, no. No. I purchased a lovely, fluffy hanging flower basket to place in the hole that will remain when we prune back the affected part. This is not a disaster, just an opportunity to add a design element to our landscape. Improv to the rescue!

 Team Colors
"McKay," 39" x 39."

I wrote about this quilt in my last blog post, but I wanted to include it again so all of the Project Quilting quilts could be together.

My mother's maiden name is McKay. I was able to visit Scotland when I was in high school and I bought several items with our family's tartan. I thought immediately of those colors and pattern when the prompt was announced. Go team McKay! This quilt's color, fabric choices and geometric design are a nod to the plaid, but certainly not an exact replica.

Put a Heart On It
"Shoofly Kisses," 41" x 47."⁣

For this prompt, you had to have a heart somewhere on the quilt. It could be pieced in or on the fabric. I didn't want to piece a heart and I didn't have any heart fabric, so I needed to get creative.

I thought I'd experiment again with bleach dyeing. Previously I have used diluted bleach and different tying techniques to get some unique patterns. I had the thought this time that I could try drawing with the bleach. I considered how to thicken bleach for far too long before I remembered about bleach toilet cleaner. It is also a diluted bleach solution, but in a thicker gel that would be easier to control. I used a Q-tip and a small bowl of bleach toilet cleaner to make a bunch of hearts. I tried a couple of different reds to see what color I'd find underneath. I got shades of tan and coral. I went with the coral.

I used the hearts in the quilt like they were little sparkles. Each section of small squares has one with a heart on it. I think of them as a sprinkling of sparkles. It reminded me of blowing kisses, so thus the name.

At the time, my not-quite-two year old was absolutely enraptured with these hearts. She learned how to say the word "heart" and began insisting that every outfit she wore include them. It's been sweet to watch her develop her own personal style and preferences. I remember that it was around this age that her older sister got into unicorns.

I had extra hearts left after I made the quilt, so I made a pillow. It is a 16" square.

Birds in the Air
"Heading South," 40" x 40."

Birds in the Air is the name of a classic quilt block. The block is traditionally a HST with one half being one fabric and the other half made of a bunch of smaller HST units. For the challenge you were free to reinterpret the block. That's what I chose to do.

I went to the website for the International Quilt Museum (here's a link) for ideas. You can search in their collections by region, time period and by block name. I was able to search the Birds in the Air section and see many examples of this particular block in action as well as many different interpretations. Quilters have been innovating from the very beginning and there were many stellar examples. One was even from the 1820s! If you spend a few minutes browsing this database, I guarantee you won't be sorry. It's a great resource.

The half square triangles in this quilt are free pieced. I squared them down to a consistent size at the end. I love the interest imperfection gives. I also broke the consistency of the pattern to add the red triangles...except for once when I didn't. Surprise! I didn't have enough of any of the burgundy fabrics to do solid setting triangles, so I creatively pieced them. This was not a disaster, just an opportunity to add a design element. It might be my favorite part of the quilt!

"Birds in the Air, 2." 22" x 22"⁣

I usually like to clean up my space when I finish a quilt top. I completed the top for the Project Quilting prompt of "Birds in the Air" and had a pile of fabric scraps and extra liberated HST blocks left on the cutting table. This is me "cleaning up." 

Those little floating squares were made from a Loominous plaid scrap that I had and just might be my favorite part of the quilt. At first glance they look pieced. It's always my secret pleasure to think I might have encouraged someone to look twice.

After posting this on Instagram, I was encouraged to watch the Yo Gabba Gabba song/video, "There's a Party in My Tummy." (here's a link) I almost fell out of my chair from laughing so hard. My kids thought it was hilarious. I triple dog dare you to watch it and look at the quilt again. I guarantee you'll never look at it in the same way.

It's hanging on the wall by our dining room table and it makes me smile every time I see it and think about the sad carrots in the video.

Give it Away
"Sparkly," 41" x 41."

The point of this prompt was to make something to give away. Just for fun I started with a dark green dress shirt (thanks, Goodwill) and some turquoise string scraps that I had been given. I tried making liberated stars because I thought it was the best use of the strings. When I got bored with a single background color, I added some similar shades from my stash. I kept making stars until I ran out of turquoise strings. I was already feeling a pang thinking that I had to give this away because I was really liking it.

I wasn't sure how I wanted to set the stars, but I left them up on the design wall while I was thinking. During a trip to JoAnn to get some more spray baste, I saw that coral fabric with silver dots. I really, really liked it, so I bought a few yards to take home. I wasn't thinking about this quilt, only that I liked the fabric. My subconscious had different plans. These clearly belong together.

I ran out of background fabric while I was piecing the crazy sawtooth border, so I added the dark green plaid. This also was a men's dress shirt (thanks, Goodwill). I wasn't thinking that the quilt needed an influx of a darker value, but it definitely did. That's why I never get sad when I run out of fabric. More often than not, running out is a blessing in disguise.

My solution to the "give it away" problem was to make another smaller version (14" x 14"). I wanted it to go to someone who would appreciate it, so I used a random number generator to choose a comment from my Instagram post of Sparkly. This little mini now lives in Georgia.

Vibrant and Vivacious
"Bed Quilt for O," 66" x 86."

In my mind, I have a whole collection of projects that I call the "Phyllis Quilts." Phyllis is a member of my guild that generously shares her scraps with me. I really appreciate it. The turquoise strings in the last quilt came from her. While I was digging through the bags to find the turquoise pieces, I kept pulling out other strings that I liked and began to build a palette of sweet colors.

I began with a square from my own stash and added strings to two sides. When it felt about big enough, I added strips of super lightweight denim and squared it to 11 inches. Four of those made a great big block. I did have to add some of my own fabric to finish the quilt, but the bucket of gifted strings made a great start.

This is a twin sized quilt for my youngest daughter when she transitions from the crib to her big girl bed.

This quilt was quilted by Sarah Yoder Parker. She used a hugs and kisses motif. The hearts in the center move out towards the circles and into the Xs in the sashing. I really love that clever bit of symbolism. I included a picture of the quilt in full sun so the quilting really shows.

I'm always amazed at how much the lighting affects color. That is the same quilt, with no editing of the photos, in shade and full sun.

"Sharp," 35" x 35."

My daughter's quilt left me with a pile of denim strips that I was loathe to waste, so I used them to make a scrap quilt. I added the putty color because it was on my cutting table from a project my son was working on. I added the orange because I'd purchased a fat quarter set of Alison Glass shot cottons that I hadn't put away yet. I think design can be well-considered without being overthought.

Immediacy, thriftiness and "cleaning up" are such a big part of my process. Like I said, I really enjoy working with constraints.

I added two other colors that were very close to the denim for interest. I like the richness that comes from having lots of voices in the choir, even if they are singing the same tune. I added the dark blue for value contrast. When I first started this quilt, I included bits of the coral metallic fabric from Sparkly, but I edited that out. I thought that the dots took away from the sharpness of the hard edges of the shapes. That's how it got its name.

I did work on some other quilts that were not associated with Project Quilting.

"Quarantine Quilt," 20" x 20."

In the beginning of the quarantine, I chose to tidy up my sewing room each night while the kids were showering. I really appreciated the peace I found in those 10-15 minutes. Ordering my space helped me stay centered. While cleaning, I found this bag of thin strips that I'd gotten from Phyllis. There weren't many and they were skinny enough that I wondered if I should even keep them. I decided to sew some together in the morning and see what happened.

And I made this. It feels like right now...kind of an embellished interruption. This was my way of making the space we're in a little better.

"N's Quarantine Quilt," 56" x 56."

My 10 year old son has shown an interest in quilting and we always said that we should make a quilt together, so we did. Every day for his school schedule he does some reading and math, but also piano practice and quilt time with me. The arts are so important! He picked his own fabrics, pieced, sewed, pressed, quilted and stitched. We estimated that he's spent 15 hours making this quilt.

Our hands were all over this quilt together, especially when we were quilting it. He asked for a minky backing (groan) and it took all four of our hands to wrangle that bulky, slippery sucker through the machine to quilt it. That's when I taught him about straight-ish line quilting. I held it together to teach him the "right way" with pins, nested seams and seam gauges all throughout the process. I drew the line at the STRAIGHT line (ha ha). I told him that we could add more lines of quilting at different intervals to distract from the odd wave. I also told him that anyone who got close enough to the quilt to notice and comment on a non-straight line was was also close enough to kick. How's that for a philosophy?!

"Poison," 14" x 14."

Of course there were scraps left over from my son's quilt, and of course I had to make a mini out of them. My addition was to add the red fabric. Every poison needs an apple!

Okay, that's it for me! I hope everyone is finding a way to navigate these crazy times in a way that keeps you whole and healthy. For me it's been sewing, but that's typical.

Have a great week!

Friday, January 31, 2020

Over the Slump

I had good intentions of posting more often, but here I am with another massive post.

I'm also very relieved to have a massive post. Since the time of my last blog, I've been through a massive slump. It was hard enough just to look at the sewing room, let alone go in and get some work done. Coming out of it on the other side, I'm so proud of myself that I continued to work. Some of these quilts were agonizingly slow finishes that weren't made with my usual joie de vie, but they ARE finishes and I'm counting that as a win.

You might be wondering how I broke out of the slump, so I'll share what worked for me.

1. I forced myself to sew. No plans, just sewing bits together. Sometimes I went back to basics and just made improv half square triangles. Sometimes I sewed scraps together. Sometimes I would put one thread worth of hand quilting in. I would tell myself to sew for a certain amount of time and then reward myself with a show. I watched the whole series of Poldark this way! 🙂

2. I took some pressure off myself. I entered an IQF quilt show this fall (after a several year quilt show break) and made myself an absolute nervous wreck. I obsessed over the $100 I spent in entry fees and shipping and started obsessively questioning if I should enter Quiltcon (also after a several year break). I said no and I'm okay with it. Entering quilt shows is a wildly expensive endeavor and I share my work in other ways.

 3. I took better care of myself. I have PCOS so my diet can dramatically influence my overall health and mental state. I made time for myself to do the extra cooking and prepping that was necessary for me to eat the way I need to.  I said no sometimes to extra things I could do at church and my kids' school. I worked to get extra sleep.

4. I put my phone down and unhooked from a lot of social media, including Instagram. I removed all of the push notifications. I found that the flashing IG camera would make me switch on my phone and I'd check my email and other social media accounts while I was at it. That loop sucked way too much time out of more important things. I think this habit started as a way to mentally check out and relieve stress. Once I stopped doing it, I realized how much stress it was actually causing me.

5. I waited it out. Pretty soon I found myself back in the sewing room again without having to bargain/bribe myself there. Creative slumps don't last forever. There is definitely hope on the other side.

Anyway, I hope this helps someone.


I'm naming this one "Thirteen Bucks." It is 40" x 59" and was an absolute pleasure to piece.⁣

This summer I went to my mom's local quilt shop and raided the scrap bin that was for sale by the ounce. I was thinking only of supplementing my own stash and wasn't consciously picking a palette. I felt drawn towards fabric that had a texture. I picked out flannel, shot cotton, linen blends, chambray, slubs, metallics and fabrics that had an interesting visual pattern. I spent $13 on a pretty large sack and walked out happy.⁣

When I got home to Iowa and started sorting the scrap pack to put away, I realized that the fabrics looked very nice together. With only minimal additions from my stash, I was able to put a quilt together. ⁣

I made this without a ruler and definitely without a plan. My favorite part was trying to meld the sections together without any obvious construction seams and riff on a classic 9-patch.

At my guild presentation in September they asked how I decided when to do a facing and when to bind. I scissor trimmed this edge and admired the gentle curves so much that I decided to draw attention to them with a binding in a darker value.

I backed this quilt with shot cotton. I love that texture!

This is "My Favorite Earrings" It is 62" x by 64." ⁣

I started this quilt several years ago while I was visiting my mom's house. My mother was complaining that she was having a hard time shutting her red scrap drawer because it was so full. Simultaneously, Crazy Mom Quilts was hosting a QAL for her June quilt. Those two ideas collided in my brain and I volunteered to help my mother out with her problem! This isn't an exact June, I fudged the measurements of the inspiration quilt to work for the strip sets I'd pieced. ⁣

I struggled for a while knowing what colors to put with my red pieced strips. Sometimes I like to use the color wheel for guidance in choosing schemes. I kept trying to strategize what to use with the red, but I wasn't really feeling anything. Finally, I decided to do something a little closer to home. I modeled the colors in this quilt after my favorite pair of earrings.⁣

I got these earrings for Christmas several years ago. My favorite catalog in the whole entire world is the Sundance catalog. I love pretty much all of the jewelry in it. Every year for Christmas, my husband buys me one thing. I usually let him pick, but I felt very strongly about this pair of earrings. I left him several hints. When Christmas time came, he handed me my present box and I have to admit, I felt a little sad inside. It was too big to be my earrings. I tried to put on a game face and open my present with a smile. It turns out that it was an empty pineapple box with the little tiny earring box nestled inside. When I opened my earrings, I burst into happy tears and scolded my husband at the same time for teasing me. I still love these earrings. And now I'm glad I have a quilt to go with them.

Last night was my birthday and I got another pair of earrings. I opened the gift bag and pulled out the tiny Sundance box inside.  My husband instantly started apologizing that he hadn't wrapped it "properly." I'm glad he was tired. It definitely cut down on the clean up!! 😜

I am excited to show a much better photograph of my quilt, Rattlesnake, that I pieced in 2017. I hung it from tree in not great lighting and all I managed to do was give myself nightmares. ⁣

This quilt appears in the new book by Thomas Knauer called "Why We Quilt." I was honored to be asked to write a brief essay about why I choose to quilt. This invitation came at the perfect time. I had just gotten Rattlesnake back from a quilt show and had received some feedback that stung. The criticism made me feel like I shouldn't be quilting anymore. Within days of that occurrence, I received a fortuitous email from Thomas Knauer asking me to write an essay about why I quilt. In addition, he also asked to include a picture of Rattlesnake in his book. I am so glad for the moment of clarity I had in writing that essay at that particular moment. ⁣

It's important for all of us to contemplate the reasons why we quilt. Quilting can be wildly expensive and time-consuming. Thinking about the motivations alters the perception of the final product and helps prioritize goals. For instance, I know I quilt as a way to create personal meaning. I look at my quilts differently than I would if I didn't understand that I was trying to SAY something. I write about them. Transmitting a feeling is important to me. Knowing that changes how I choose what quilt I make next.⁣

If all of that seems like a whole lot to think about, it's because I've had a chance to look through this book since receiving my contributor copy. I found the book to be very thoughtful discourse. You'll have deep thoughts about why you quilt, too. I've loved reading different perspectives. I recommend it highly. It is currently available.

This is "Bucket List." It is 35" x 35."⁣

My favorite compliment is that looking at my quilts makes people feel happy. I like that. Creating is a joyful act for me. I am happy when I create and happy that others feel it too. The challenge this year at my guild is to include words on a quilt. This is my word.

I made these buckets improvisationally and hand sewed each handle down along with the H, P,P, Y. The stars are pieced.

"Rising," 31" x 33"⁣

I went to a lecture by Weeks Ringle of Modern Quilt Studio last month. She included a picture of The Gates by Christopher and Jean-Claude in her presentation. Something about the vibrant orange next to the drab winter landscape in Central Park really spoke to me. The colors were enhanced by each other.⁣

I worked on my idea the next day at the workshop. I started with the orange part. My favorite part was to watch people walk by me and physically flinch. The purple somehow calms it down and makes it look purposeful all at the same time. Color is so cool!!⁣

It is improvisationally pieced, naturally shaped, freehand crosshatched in monofilament and finished with a faced edge.

I didn't have the original picture I took of this quilt from the front lawn, so I got it out from the cupboard today and took a picture of it in our living room. I still love it!

I have a soft spot in my heart for making baby quilts and a soft spot for a couple at church who deserve all the good things. I delivered this in person. It was totally a "This is why I quilt" moment.

It is 40" x 40." I quilted it loosely (for the extra cuddly factor) with freehand ribbons.

This is "Phyllis," 20" x 30." I named this for the guild-mate that gave me a bag of oddly shaped scraps. While I was deep in the funk, sewing the weird shaped pieces together to make a sort of rectangle was the most I could handle. I repetitively sewed these shapes together for a couple days, then grouped them by size and repetitively sewed them together again. If you are in a creative slump, I highly recommend that activity. I've found that I have to keep touching fabric (even when I don't feel like it) to sew myself through these periodic lulls in creativity.

I decided to matchstick quilt this in hot pink thread.

"Not an Asterisk," ~36" x ~36."

In 2016, Pantone surprised everyone by announcing a dual color of the year--Rose Quartz and Serentiy (blue). Not everyone was happy. I remember reading horrified comments like, "It looks like shades of an 80s bathroom!! That was the year with no Pantone Quilt Challenge. Given the reception? Totally understandable.

It is, however, the asterisk in a long string of Pantone years and quilts that I needed to fix.

I made this from three dress shirts I bought on final markdown clearance at Goodwill and a small bit of dark blue and light pink from my stash. If you look closely at the left, you'll see the Nautica logo I trimmed off a pocket from the chambray. I used a scrap of wool batting my mom gave me and backed it with a piece of gingham that came from the free table at guild. It is pieced and quilted with thread that I've won from other Pantone Quilt Challenges. I think that means that I spent about $5 for this quilt (and that includes an estimate of how much spray baste I used).

I've been using recycled dress shirts quite often lately. The commercialism in the quilting world is starting to really bug me. I'm not much of a social media "influencer," but I'll say this...having a "make-do" spirit is good for me creatively.

This quilt is improvisationlly pieced without a ruler and the edge is scissor trimmed.

I was just starting to mentally get over the slump with some hurried sewing (this was originally going to be for a wedding gift) when I got sick. I was just about finished and ready to send it for an on-time arrival when I got pneumonia. I didn't sew at all for more than two weeks. I'm pretty sure that's the longest I've gone without sewing since I first started quilting about 10 years ago!

This was still on the design wall when I started to work again. I decided to name it "Crackle" for the icy shards of cool color and for the sound in my lungs that abruptly stopped it's making. It is 28" x 28."

I quilted this with a combination of monofilament and metallic thread.

I ended up keeping "Crackle" and making another gift for the newly married couple (since it was already late).

My mom was at the wedding and one of her favorite parts was when all the friends and family stood outside at the end of the evening and sent the bride and groom off in a shower of sparklers. I really liked that image and thought I'd make something to remind them of that.

Ths pillow is 18" and is made in their wedding colors. The orchid color is from a Goodwill shirt (It's in Crackle, too). It's quilted with cotton and metallic threads. I was going for sparkler-esque. In truth, I'm just a sucker for sparkles.

FYI, that's our new couch that was delivered over Christmas break. I have never been more excited to get rid of a piece of furniture than I was when we chucked the old couch in the back of the truck. I think I'm going to have the urge to make a lot more pillows!

Last but not least is "McKay." It is 39" x 39."

I made this quilt for the Project Quilting theme of  "Team Colors." My mother's family is from Scotland so the design, the inclusion of Loominous plaids and color selection is inspired by the McKay tartan.

The very last commitment I made in the quilt was to add the metallic orange from Loominous. I think split complementary color schemes make fun quilts, and honestly, I couldn't really resist that metallic check.

I didn't get it done by the Sunday afternoon deadline. I almost made it, but my machine begged for mercy. I've had the suspicion that the bobbin case was wearing down for a few weeks now. About a quarter of the way through the quilting my suspicion turned into certainty. The stitch quality went down and the noise level went up! I made the decision to switch out machines and take the time to rip out most of what I had done. I liked the quilt too much to compromise for the sake of time. So, I finished late. After you've done the best you can, you just have to know when to be gentle with yourself and let things go.

I quilted it with monofilament thread on my spare machine, which is my mom's old Pfaff.

The last is a picture of the McKay tartan for reference.

I hope you all have a great day!