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.