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.