Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Closet Game

This is a running record of all the quilts I made during the lockdown/quarantine. There are a lot. My cellphone had a catastrophic failure a couple of weeks ago, and I lost a lot of pictures. Many of these quilts will have only one picture, but since there are so many quilts, that just might be for the best. You can find more detail shots on my Instagram page, @pieladyquilts.

The creative theme I used to prompt myself this time was "the closet." In my sewing room, I store many things in that closet. Maybe *too* many. All the quilts in today's post began as bags of scraps, orphan blocks, a stray quilt top or from fabric stacked in that closet. I will go in chronological order.

"Roses and Thorns"⁣
23" x 23"⁣

"We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses." --Abraham Lincoln⁣

Last spring, while I was making the coral Pickle Dish quilt, I needed to rip out part of a seam on one of the arcs. I ended up ripping the seam AND the fabric. I saved the ripped arc and the angled scraps from the project in a plastic bag to work on later. A year later, here we are.⁣

I try hard to be an optimist, but I have to admit that when I dumped out the bag, I saw the "thorns" first. I used all of the angled pieces to create three roses as my penance.

The background fabric is from a men's brushed woven dress shirt (thanks, Goodwill). There was a definite right side and wrong side to the fabric, but I ignored that. I like the subtle variation in color and texture. I also experimented with one of the utility stitches on my machine to stitch in some more texture with invisible thread.⁣

I found the ripped pickle dish arc and a bag of scraps stored in the closet. I normally don't store scraps this way (I just use them instantly), but I had to move on quickly to other State Fair quilts last summer and put them aside to deal with later.

"Love Triangles"
35" x 40"

This quilt began with orphan blocks from my quilt "Love At First Glow." I discovered that I could make the blocks have a glowing effect if I started with the lightest value and gradually darkened the values as I added more rounds. These are the blocks that I made before I discovered that.

I floated these blocks in a sea of Kona Oasis. I chose that fabric because it was a nice medium value and also because I had three yards of it in my stash. Specific fabrics were hard to come by at this point in the spring, and I was happy to use what I had.

I quilted this using the zig zag utility stitch on my machine and pale green thread. I like how the contrasting thread looks on the Oasis background and it was a fun way to deal with quilting the negative space on this quilt.

I ended up with a lot of weird angled Oasis scraps after piecing this, so I took a break from digging in the closet and used those scraps as my inspiration for the next several quilts.

"Not in Nottingham"
20" x 20"

When I sorted through the Kona Oasis scraps, I found that I had two distinct shapes: wedge strips and triangles. This quilt was made with the triangles plus scraps from my scrap bin. I was thinking of sea glass and wintergreen gum while I picked out the fabric.

You know that Roger Miller song from the Disney version of Robin Hood? I hummed it the whole time I pieced this.

Every town
Has its ups and downs
Sometimes ups
Outnumber the downs
But not in Nottingham

I had a comment on Instagram from a quilter that lives in that part of England. She approved of this quilt and we laughed about it together.

"Mysterious Ness"
25" x 25"

This quilt is how I dealt with the Kona Oasis wedge strip scraps.

During the quarantine I was my kids' piano teacher. I assigned "The Loch Ness Monster to my daughter. It's a fun song. There are minor chords that rise from the low end of the keyboard, a silly chorus and then slow minor chords down the piano as the monster heads back in to the deep. She loved the song and I loved the illustration. It was a mustard colored Nessie with triangle teeth in a green sea backed by a blue sky.

These are free-pieced triangles that I trimmed to size with a Half & Quarter ruler that I didn't remember that I had. All the fabrics came from the scrap bin and were meant to be deep-valued and mysterious.

34" x 39"

I thought I had used the rest of the Living Coral scraps in "Roses and Thorns," the quilt I started the blog with today. I hadn't. I found a whole bucket of more triangle-ish scraps from piecing the arcs. I dumped the bucket out and started piecing. Originally I was sewing random colors together, but it felt too chaotic to me. I adjusted to use pairs of similar colors and arrange the quilt in color fields.  I was on a big true crime kick this spring. I listened to the "DC Sniper: Monster" podcast. I think I had a visceral reaction against random and subconsciously imposed order on this piece. Once again, this is a great illustration how improv work is reactive. I still used those original blocks that I pieced; they are sprinkled in as the "surprise" in the color fields. I also pieced in a little private joke. In the orange field there is one single triangle of Kona Oasis that I hadn't used in "Not in Nottingham."
This is quilted with freehand waves in monofilament thread and is finished with a faced edge.

"Oceanic Bullseye"
15" x 15"

This was my ten year old son's entry to the Curated Quilts Youth Mini challenge and his second quilt. He designed, pieced and helped to quilt this. I think he really enjoyed having some alone time with me during the time that we were all stuck in the house together. We had to use a prescribed set of colors, but we omitted some and played with arrangements and different tints of color for a long time. He learned about value and how purposely being imperfect makes art more interesting. When the quilt wasn't accepted for the gallery, he also learned about how it's good to be a little different than everyone else and not "fit" in a grouping, but how marching to your own drummer isn't without a few twinges of discomfort. This quilt is hanging in his room and he is exceptionally proud of it.

"Happy Hatch"
41" x 59"

This was a quilt top that came from the closet in my sewing room. I had it basted and quilted with a few lines of hand stitching. I decided that hand quilting this didn't really enrich the design that much and ripped out the little bit I had done. I quilted this with an elongated zig zag utility stitch on my machine. I think it gives the quilt a really fun texture. 

This quilt was made from the scraps of the quilt I made called "Bucket List," which is pictured below. I added a few extra blues and a navy blue and white maternity shirt I cut up (pictured above).
With "Happy Hatch," I've also decided to check the box on 2020's Pantone Classic Blue. Rather than dedicating an entire series on the color, I'm going to count these three quilts from this year where I swerved into Classic Blue. Even without a stand alone post on the color, I think I have honored it. 
Have you seen the announced color pair for 2021? A bright sunshiney yellow (YAY!) and a drab gray (uhhh...?). It makes me think the selection was trying a little too hard to be metaphorical with the whole light at the end of the dark tunnel thing, but I'll still challenge myself to make a quilt. Color is what you make of it.

It turns out that you can't just make a quilt with one of your children. After seeing her brother make a quilt, my daughter insisted that she have a turn. I found a free pattern from Robert Kaufman called Pixelated Heart. It looked like a perfect pattern for a beginner. I dug in my closet, stash and scrap bins and found enough Anna Maria Horner fabric to use in the quilt. The background is a lightweight denim and we backed it with turquoise minky. I asked Sarah Yoder Parker to longarm it for us and she did a beautiful freehand design of interlocking hearts. This quilt has received HEAVY use. And by heavy, I mean I have to remove it from my daughter's face every morning to wake her up for school. 

There was another very positive outcome of this quilt. While I was digging through my scrap bins to find more pieces of Anna Maria Horner fabric, I found Tula Pink Nightshade scraps. Years ago I bought a fat quarter bundle of Nightshade ON SALE for twenty something dollars. I briefly considered hoarding it, but decided that I wanted to stay true to a personal belief that fabric is meant to be used. I bought it because I liked it, so of course I'd want to make a quilt out of it. A few years ago I made a Nightshade quilt that I still love and still display every fall. I didn't have a clear idea of how much the fabric scraps were worth, so I decided to put it up on an eBay auction and let the market decide what it was worth. I had a couple full faces, a couple partial faces and scraps from the coordinating prints. All told it was about a yard of fabric. The market decided alright. It decided to the tune of $450. With the proceeds, I bought the backing for the scrap vortex quilt I'll share later in the post and with the rest, totally revamped my sad clothes closet. I threw away all my sad, stained, holey mom shirts and some skirts that were older than my oldest child. I went on an eBay shopping spree and bid and haggled my way to a fresh new closet of cute clothes. I bought new leggings, a style of tunic that I love in many different prints and colors, a couple of dresses, skirts, a new pair of sparkly silver Birkenstocks and a new pair of sneakers. I LOVE that playing the sewing closet game solved another closet's problems. 
I will share a picture of the quilt I made a few years ago with the Nightshade bundle just for fun.

"Don't Be Crabby"
31" x 31"

The name for this quilt references the cute crab print that I used for the backing. It also references life events (I took my sewing machine in to a local place for a needle jam and it ended up being a fatal repair. I had to buy a new machine.) It also references the provenance of the fabric used to make it.

Long time readers may remember that I have played the trading game for fabric. I offer notions and/or fabric that I am no longer using for trade. One of the participants told me that she had a great deal of solid fabric that she'd like to trade me. The large amounts of solid fabric ended up being large petal shapes that were cut on the bias. 
This summer I was asked to give a Zoom lecture for the German National Quilt Guild for their Summer Series. All of the other offerings were method workshops, so I wanted to add a tutorial at the end of my Zoom presentation on scraps to give a concrete example of how to use the scraps I'd just spent 90 minutes talking about. I checked in my sewing closet for some likely scraps to use as a demo and found the giant bias petals. I cut them in on-grain strips and started piecing this. I also added some red prints and tonal solids from my scrap bin to get the color proportions right.

 "Stress-Eating Starburst"
23" x 23"

When I wrote about "Don't Be Crabby" on Instagram, I ended the post by saying something snarky about how I pieced that quilt while stress-eating Starburst. I was thinking about that while I was contemplating how to use up the scraps and had the thought that it might be funny to actually piece a quilt with the theme of stress-eating Starburst. I used the red, yellow and fuchsia from the first quilt and color matched an orange fabric to a Starburst wrapper.

I think the whole idea of stress-eating Starburst resonated with people because all of us have had to find ways to deal with the stress, pain and uncertainty that have come with 2020. I was stunned when my silly tongue-in-cheek quilt was so popular. 
In fact, it was the response to this quilt that made me end a years long embargo on Quiltcon. I submitted this quilt along with four others this year. My mom told me it was time to start submitting again, so I listened. As of this writing, the acceptance emails haven't been sent yet. We'll see how it goes.

"The Old Ninety Sixer"
96" x 96"

I have been saving the pieces to make one of these scrap vortex quilts for 4 years. I sew together print strips from leftover backings and facings as part of the clean up process after I finish every quilt. I'll grab random pieces from my print scraps and sew them onto the leftover strips. Then, I cut them apart and store the sewn, unpressed pairs in a bucket in my closet. I also do this with the scraps from quilts I make with prints. This summer, the bucket was full!

I listened to four audiobooks on George Washington while I pieced this. The audiobooks helped distract me from the insane amount of piecing and ironing this quilt entailed. I had just enough pieced fabric pairs to sew this large top, and then gleefully used the leftover backing strips from this quilt to start filling my bucket all over again.

My husband is a notorious cover-stealer (shameless, too) so I am glad to have a quilt that's big enough to give me a fighting chance!

I received the pillow in the picture from Tina, @13quilts, in the Great Pillow Swap I participated in a few years ago. This quilt was also quilted by Sarah Yoder Parker.

The next picture is a closeup of the work as I was piecing it. I even spy a few pieces of the notorious Nightshade fabric!

"Butterflies in My Head"
15" x 15"

I stay home with the kids (4) now, but before the kids I was an elementary school teacher for 7 years. Every few years I have to take courses to keep my teaching license current. This summer I took three online classes. My favorite was "You Can Do WHAT With Google Slides?!" The poor instructor had no idea what he was in for with me. We had to create an artifact to demonstrate evidence of our learning, but at no point did he specify that the artifact have to be related to elementary school. I used this opportunity to start working on another slide show presentation about color.

As I was making different slides about specific color harmonies, I realized that I didn't have many quilts with the double split complementary. This color harmony uses two pair of complementary colors making an X across the color wheel. If you were to make lines connecting all four colors, it would look like a rectangle. For this quilt I used blue-green, red-violet, yellow-green and red-orange. All the fabric came from my scrap bins.
...and I have the receipts! 😄


"Pointed Star of the East"
47" x 65"

This is the quilt that I made with the vintage star block I picked up at a local consignment store that had been languishing in my sewing room closet. This is the second, and final, quilt I've made from blocks that were donated by this maker (or the maker's family). All of the blocks came labelled with paper from a feed store in Wayland, Iowa. the previous quilt was foundation pieced on a bag from a store in Wayland. I think there's a strong case to be made for the original maker's location.

I added modern fabrics and sensibilities to this vintage block for a collaboration that I'm happy with. I did a little quilt surgery to help the block lie flat and then placed it in a context that matched a perfectly imperfect who-cares-if-it's-a-square square. All the fabric came from my stash and is an eclectic mix of scrap, modern text, solids and 30s and Civil War reproductions.

I quilted this with the scallop stitch on my Janome, flipping the quilt 180 degrees every other row.

Also, for just a little inside baseball, this picture is taken in my sewing room where my design wall usually is. The design wall can be rolled  up like a projection screen when I need it to. You can see the edge peeking out at the top.

I was happy to see 6 quilts from this post show up in my Top Nine for 2020!

I also want to share a few things that are coming up for me. I've done a few live trunk shows locally in the past, but guilds have had to make many adjustments to their programs in response to local restrictions. I've created an online trunk show/lecture called "Unlocking the Joy in Scraps" that I give live via Zoom. I have two engagements coming up that allow visitors if you are interested.

Saturday, December 19th at 1:00 EST, South Florida MQG Link here.
Monday, January 25th at 6:30 PT, East Bay Heritage Quilters (EBHQ) Link here.

I've also been trying my hand at fabric dyeing. I cut extra Anna Maria Horner charm squares while I was helping my daughter with her quilt. I sold one of them to a friend on Instagram (I still have a set of 70 left, which is enough to make the Pixelated Heart pattern. Let me know if you're interested) and used the money to buy Ann Johnston's "Color By Accident" DVD. It was exceptionally done and I highly recommend it if you've ever had the notion that you'd like to try dyeing fabric. I have been busy procrastinating writing this blog post by making lots of quilts with my first batch of hand dyed fabrics. I'm excited to share them with you soon. 

Thanks for reading. I hope you have a blessed holiday season!


  1. I love it when a new post from you pops up in my links! So many gorgeous makes! Getting to read the stories behind each one is wonderful. Thanks so much for sharing your creativity!:)

  2. As usual, when I am done drooling at your quilts and reading your words, I am speechless. Thank you for sharing. I can't tell you how much these quilts spark something in me. I signed up for your class and look forward to your lecture. Your color sense is exceptional, clear, and satisfying.

    1. Thank you, Linda! I really appreciate it! I hope you enjoyed the lecture on Saturday. It was a really fun group and I had a great time.

  3. Lots of lovely makes! So interesting reading the stories behind each one too.

    1. Thanks, Linda! With improv, you always are reacting to something. I tell the stories to share what I was reacting to!

  4. What a blessing to see all your 2020 quilts together with your explanation. They are beautiful examples of scrap quilting. I hope to hear your talk on Zoom. Thanks for sharing the information.

    1. Thank you, Ann. I really should post more often so it isn't almost a year's worth of quilts in one post! 😁

  5. A lot of beautiful quilts! Love Stress-Eating Starburst 😍

  6. Wow, so much beauty in this post!! What a lovely group of quilts you've finished; each and every one is amazing. Your comment about books on George Washington made me think about how earlier in 2020 I was doing some genealogy research and came across an ancestor who was an officer in the Revolutionary War, but was court martialed for some relatively minor infraction. However, the Commander in Chief gave additional chastisement, which was recorded in a book about the last days at Valley Forge. Pretty interesting to think that my gggg-grandfather was dressed down by George Washington himself!

    1. I really learned a lot about George Washington this summer. This sounds like something he would do. I'm sure your ancestor didn't enjoy it, but what a great story to have in your family. Thanks for reading!

  7. Dear Jill, I am new to your blog. I am so excited to get back to my many scrap projects, after looking at your beauties!! Your color placement is fantastic.!! I really enjoyed your talking about your quilts also. I hope to hear you give a program someday.

    1. Thank you, Jane! Welcome! I think it is so fun to make a quilt out of the leftovers. I hope you have a great time diving into your scraps!!

  8. Great post and great quilts. So exuberant and individual.

    1. Thank you! I enjoy exploring so much. Making these quilts brings me a lot of joy.

  9. I really enjoyed this post. Have a great day!

  10. What an amazing collection!
    I saw one of your quilts in Simply Modern, I believe the article was about Quiltcon entries?
    And I think it was your Jagged quilt or one like it, congratulations.