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.