17 November, 2015

Small Wonders by Mary Fons - New Quilt in the Works

It isn't often that I get asked to make something with a designer's fabric. And it is less often that I say yes to the request. But when Mary Fons asked I was more than happy to respond in the positive. Mary has been tremendously supportive of my career through our relationship at Quilty and I'm happy to return the favour.

Small Wonders is her new fabric line with Springs Creative. She dove through their archives and worked with them to produce a dramatic and graphic line. The colours are out of my personal norm, but so rich. Sure to be a hit with many different audiences.

I have a plan worked out for the fabric and look forward to cutting into it this weekend. I see some playtime in my future.

Keep up with my work on this project on Periscope. Haven't heard of Periscope yet? It is the latest social media app - allowing for live broadcasts to be streamed from my phone to your phone or computer. I am enjoying it for sharing snippets from my sewing room and process posts about quilt projects. If you don't have the app you can still watch my broadcasts on Katch. My first post on this series is up there now.

06 November, 2015

Quilt Local (Weekend Reads)

One of the most common questions I get asked is "Where do you find your inspiration?" I'll admit, it is a frustrating question. Partly, because the answer - everywhere! - seems trite. But mostly because the answer itself frustrates many. So many of us seem to think that inspiration is some magical creature that touches only a select few. Like the Greeks and their Muses, that is comes from something else and not within. Poppycock!

If you open your eyes and your heart to seeing the world around you, if you listen to the people talk and the love you feel, the inspiration is right there. And if you get your butt in the sew it can come to life in a quilt.

Quilt Local, by Heather Jones, is a book that walks the reader through noticing the world around and capturing it in a quilt. It takes you through her thought process on everything from colour, capturing inspiration, designing a quilt, and decision making. For a quilter wondering how it goes from planks on a dock to a quilt, this is it.

Heather is a lovely woman, a quiet and reflective soul. I've known her through the industry for a few years now. She was gracious enough to contribute to You Inspire Me to Quilt. Her quilts are bold, even if their colour schemes are usually more muted. It is her emphasis on line, translated with large scale piecing, that gives her a unique voice in quilt design.

Where Heather is restrained and focused in her palettes, I am all over the place. Neither is better or worse, just different. In many ways I am drawn to her quilts because of this contrast. Only a handful of fabrics, muted colour ways and straightforward constructions. Not my usual more is more mentality when it comes to fabric selection!

In Quilt Local I was particularly drawn to her quilt Indian Hill. I loved the bright colours she used in both versions of the quilt. A difference for her and probably what made it more appealing to me. I also quite liked the angles of the design. What I found interesting is that when I read her construction method I was surprised. It isn't how I would have put the quilt together. Now I'm not saying her way is wrong, not at all. It is more about noticing and remembering that each of us approach a design challenge and pattern making differently, from our own experiences. It is the same with inspiration - we see the world through our own lens and what we find fascinated, another might be bored. Where we see a quilt, someone else just sees a misty mountain. The important thing is to see.

This is one of the final stops on the blog tour for Quilt Local. Check out the other posts for more inspiration and insight.

10/5: Creative Bug
10/6: STC Craft Blog  
10/10: Sew Mama Sew
10/12: Plaid Portico
10/16: Pellon
10/29: Okan Arts
10/30: Kara Sews
11/2: Crimson Tate
11/4: Dainty Time
11/9: Spoonflower
11/11: Aurifil 

A few details about the book. Heather runs through an extensive colour discussion. She also details her approach to design. It really is like sitting with her as she explains a quilt from start to finish. The photography is beautiful. My one issue is that the original inspiration image is not all that large. It is included, as are Heather's sketches, but I would have liked to have seen more of them.

One of my favourite things about the book is that Heather made two versions of each project. That means you see two different colour ways. This makes a huge difference for the reader because we are less likely to get hung up on making that quilt, or dismissing a quilt simply because we don't see the colours. It also shows us the power of fabric selection in quilt making.

My camera and phone are filled with images that may one day become the basis for a quilt. I can't stop seeing the potential. Once you open up you will indeed see that inspiration is everywhere.

03 November, 2015

Orange Log Cabin Variations For My Son

A certain 3 year old boy is very, very excited for this quilt. I finished the top last week and his impatience for a finished quilt may not outlast my desire to wait for a certain fabric to be released in a few weeks, a fabric I want for the back of this. (Hoping for the large scale print from Carkai.)

His impatience for the quilt is only slightly above his impatience for enough snow to go sledding. If he can't ride his bike then that is an acceptable alternative. With the first snow only arriving yesterday and days staying below freezing it is an odd limbo that is tantamount to torture. But he has both the quilt and the snow to look forward to, right?

If you want to be a really good blogger, I recommend never making quilts with orange or red in them. So damn hard to photograph! Well, at least with my skills it is. But his favourite colour is orange and so orange the quilt must be. This is was the best I can do with the shot. Oy.

My plan for quilting is either an organic grid or something all over. It's a busy quilt top, so the quilting provides texture more than anything. Just need to get that fabric and wash my floors.

25 October, 2015

The Super Awesome Coloring Book (Weekend Reads)

If you haven't heard about the colouring book trend for adults then you are probably living like a hermit with no internet or TV and never a trip to a book store. Colouring books are HUGE. There are articles about the trend and research on the stress reducing aspects. 

When it first burst out I kind of shook my head and rolled my eyes, if I'm being totally honest. They're just colouring books after all. And it isn't like anyone who is a parent hasn't sat down to colour a million times in their life already! But, I have to admit now, I'm enjoying them. If only for the visuals.

In fact, I bet a bunch of people are buying them and not even colouring because they look so good! For quilters and other surface pattern lovers this is a boon for us probably more than anyone. We get another way to enjoy the design sensibilities of our favourite artists. 

Mark Cesarik is once such artist. He's designed some lovely fabric on top of having the cutest baby. I've enjoyed working with Mark in the past so I was happy to share his new colouring book when he asked.

Not all colouring books are created equal. Some are quite detailed, requiring super sharp pencil crayons or fine tip markers. Not to mention the patience of Job to colour them in! Many are designed around a theme - gardens, cities, mandalas, architecture styles. You name it, you can find it.

Two things I particularly like about The Super Awesome Coloring Book are, one, the varied imagery. There is no theme, just fun drawings. Some are in repeat, some are not. (The first page I went to was the mid mod chairs, of course.) And two, that the sheets are single sided. It's a small thing, but especially when you are colouring with markers that is a really nice feature.

Jenean Morrison, another wonderful artist with fabric, actually published the book. She's published her own, but is now licensing designers.

This colouring book trend has already lasted longer than I expected it to. Now that I've had some moments to sit quietly I get it. Plus, colour!

21 October, 2015

What Really Counts as Improv Quilting?

After a recent Improv with Intent class a student came up to me with deep concerns. Each student did their own project, with their own inspiration and their own execution. At the end of the day all the projects on the design wall displayed a wide range of styles and approaches. My wonderful student wondered just how much of it, however, was really Improv.

She looked around the room at people who had made triangles, strip sets, cut and resewed fabric, created specific shapes. When we came together at the end of the day people it no longer looked like our warm up exercises of random piecing. So was it still Improv?

There is a belief that unless you are picking your fabric blindly, not using a ruler, or making everything wonky it doesn't count as Improv.

So not true.

That is what I, and some others, might refer to as Pure Improv. It totally encompasses the true spirit of improvised quilting. But it is far from the only way to do it.

To clarify further, Improv is...

... taking a traditional pattern and making it without measuring pieces or worrying about perfect points. This often makes it wonky.
... sewing together random bits of fabric to become bigger pieces of fabric. These can be used on their own or as part of something else.
... taking a certain cut of fabric and sewing it to another with no preplanning about what goes next to what. Free form piecing.
... changing course midway - once, twice, or thrice (or more) - because you can.
... an attitude that allows you to not freak out when something goes wrong or off track while piecing a quilt top.
... being open to the direction your quilt takes or being okay with scrapping it when you hate it.
... as much about the process as the product.

You will automatically be bringing Intention to your work. Your intention can be a shape, a colour story, an image, a feeling, a place, a word, a symbol, a time. Even with Pure Improv there is an intention. It may be to use up all your scraps or you choose a specific colour way, but that is still intention.

When using an Improv approach to your project it is perfectly fine to bring order, square up, and otherwise define the components you are making. If you don't do this at some point you are asking for a bumpy quilt with puckers. I always tell my students that there is a time to bring back the ruler and rotary cutter, but go as far as you can without it. If you want to make a flat, squared quilt with the Improv pieces then you still need to follow those basic tenets of quilting - 1/4'' seam allowances, pressing, and squaring up (or, at the very least, shaping). For many people this then makes the Improv  feel fake. Not real Improv.

So not true.

Improv is an approach, a technique that starts with simply starting. You begin without knowing what the end product will look like. You are improvising the design as you go. Exactly how you do that will vary among quilters. It varies according to the skill level of the quilter, their comfort with improvising, and the intention they are bringing to the project.

As an example. If you've never worked without a pattern or a kit, simply sewing strip sets together without planning it all out may be enough to give you heart palpitations. People want to know every single step it takes to go from a pile of fabric to a quilt top. With Improv that is impossible to do. My strip set will look different than yours than your neighbour's. Improv for each quilter is as unique as your handwriting. We develop a rhythm and style that is all our own.

Improv provides insights to each quilter. We build confidence, curiosity, and authenticity in our work. That's on top of making a quilt that is distinctly unique. At the end of the day, if you felt like you were improvising then you were, no matter what anyone else says. As a teacher I often push my students out of the comfort zone. It isn't an accident either. I want you to challenge your own perceptions of how a quilt should be made or what colours can go together or how a block gets made. I might steer you away from the literal or towards it. Heck, we could even all start with the same Intention but will execute it differently!

For my student that day I went around the room and reviewed how each student took Improv as an approach and adapted it to the Intention they had. To be honest, I'm not sure she was totally convinced. Improv is a different mind set and so many of us have been trained in black or white on piecing techniques. What I, and any improv teacher can do, is teach you the general idea and give you confidence to do your own thing.

(Top photo, as well as the second and third from the bottom, are student work from my recent workshop with Victoria Modern Quilt Guild. The rest are my own projects.)

To learn even more about Improv quilting may I suggest my Creative Live class on the subject?

15 October, 2015

More Scrap Sorting By Colour

Sorting scraps is a constant thing. You can't just do it once and expect it to perfectly maintain itself. Unless, of course, you are awesome and put every single scrap away the second it becomes a scrap.

I will always advocate sorting by colour. It is what Amanda Jean and I encourage you to do in Sunday Morning Quilts. By far, it is the easiest method not to mention the most inspiring. We also talk about having a special category or 3 for uniquely sized pieces like strips, little snippets, or triangles.

While teaching a Values Plus class recently I, with my students, decided to try piecing based on colour as well as value. I was so excited by the results I took my scrap sorting to the next level. I took my big bag of strips and started sorting them by colour too.

The process started on the front steps, while the kids rode their bikes in the evening light. My little guy decided to stop his maniacal ride to help me. But he was so, so tired that he had to do it laying down. Hence the piles of colour radiating around him. Awesome kid.

And now I have one more section of scraps all sorted by colour. It really is a good thing.

13 October, 2015


"Mom? Who was the lady on the bus again?"

We're driving down the road to get to swimming. I've felt busy all day long with wonderfully middle class privileges of baking snacks from scratch, walking the dog, and trying to get some work done at home. The kids, picked up from school and play dates, are in the back of our large wagon and we are chatting about their days. The Monster is telling me about the unit they are doing on Peacemakers. There is Craig Kielburger from Free the Children, Malala, and the lady on the bus. She just can't remember her name. Or, frankly, why she is a peacemaker.

This one bit of information is all she gives me but I know exactly who she is speaking of: Rosa Parks.

For the rest of the drive we talk about segregation, racism, The Civil Rights movement, the role of children, all their friends of many colours, and just why Rosa Parks is a peacemaker. The girls thought about their school and imagined life without some of their friends, without learning about the places we've all come from. I thought about the same thing. We were all very sad. I had to explain that despite all the work that there are still ugly people doing ugly things to people just because of the way they look or who they love. Again, we were sad.

But then we talked about the peacemakers. The people who were willing to stand up for the good and the right and the just. The people who fought for those who couldn't fight. And I was proud. Proud of them for understanding the importance of that action, for getting exactly what injustices they were/are fighting, and for wanting to fight themselves.

A quilt can be a statement. It isn't a call to arms nor is it going to change the world. It really might only be for me to process and remember the peacemakers. Regardless, it needs to be made. I need to make it. And I will share it with my kids and you, for the lady on the bus.

... I went back to these blocks a few weeks ago, on the anniversary of the 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham. I added skirts, I changed directions. Now I think I know where I will take it. There will be, appropriately, a Courthouse Steps final layout. There will be some peace with my piecing.