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!