27 February, 2015

Talking Quilts... Picking Fabric

There was once a girl who only bought fabric as she made a quilt. She only bought the fabric she needed for that particular quilt. I know this to be true because I worked with her for ten years. At first I thought she was kidding. I mean, how is that even possible? But as I watched her make quilts I did not see her stash grow. It was amazing.

I am so not that girl.

Frankly, I was buying fabric at quilts shops long before I even quilted. I could sew and I would buy little fat quarters under the pre tense of making napkins with them. I did, once. They were really, really bad napkins in an odd shape because all I did was turn under the edges to hem the fat quarter. But oh, that fabric!

Fabric is probably the reason 95% of us quilt. Yes, there is the making aspect. But it is the fabric that brought us to our glorious making. And it is the fabric that gets us most excited, provides a level of frustration, and where most of our money gets spent. Fabric is awesome.

Pulling fabric for a new quilt is one of my top treats in the quilt making process. I've been known to pull fabric just because. A little shopping in my stash to create a random pile of fabric itching to become a quilt. Sometimes all its dreams are fulfilled. I find just the right inspiration, block, pattern, or concept and the quilt comes into being. Sometimes the fabric lingers or hovers on the edge of the scene (the closet shelves) slowly being picked through for other projects until I eventually return all the pieces to their rightful colour stacks.

Having a large stash makes this all possible. Never will I add up how much money I've spent on fabric, but I think it is safe to say that if I were to never buy fabric again and quilt for another 30 years I'd likely still have fabric left over. It means I always shop at home first. And usually only. Fabric buying involves getting something new that I love, just for the sake of loving it. Or picking up enough yardage for a backing or something specific for a binding. My stash fits in one normal size closet, with a tiny bit spilling over into scraps bins or the quilts under construction/batting closet. Gone are the days when it fit under a bed in a plastic bin.

When I started quilting nearly 17 years ago the advice du jour when picking a palette for your quilt was to find a large scale print you liked for the colours, then pick coordinating fabric for your blocks, add a little zinger of a border around your blocks, and make a big border of that large scale print. I still see that in action all the time. When I give trunk shows at guild meetings I will take a quilt in the room that I see made that way and fold away the large scale border to show quilters the difference in the quilt. Those large scale prints are often quite gorgeous, but they are doing nothing for the quilt. And all that piecing the quilter did is lost to the large scale border. So let them be your guide for picking fabrics, then set it aside or put it on the back. And if you are worried about the quilt being too small now, make more blocks. Or use whatever background fabric you have to be the border now.

Looking back on my childhood I've realized that I was destined to be a quilter. It wasn't the sewing of the barbie dresses or winning the Home Ec award in grade 8. It was my constant reorganization of my colouring supplies. One day it was rainbow, the next I was making colour combinations. I wrote my notes in colour order and obsessed over 4 colour pens. It was not acceptable to me to have a single box of jumbled up colours. This wasn't OCD, this was playing with colour.

Picking fabric is also playing with colour. Play being the key word there. No one is saying your piles of fabric have to become anything. Pick and repick, dig through your stash and challenge yourself to make a certain ugly fabric play nicely with others, get lost in interpreting a store window through your stash.

For some quilters picking fabric is stressful and hard. I feel for you. Getting to the point of fearlessness and confidence in fabric selection is no different than being comfortable with free motion quilting. It takes time. And practice.

The only way to gain confidence in fabric selection is to just do it. Read or take classes in colour theory, learn about value, stop obsessing over whether this particular green is the same as the green in that fabric, step away from the pre cuts. Pull fabric for the sake of pulling fabric. Leave the bundle be for a little while then put it all away and start again. Make practice blocks in your fabric pull before launching into a full quilt. Ask for advice and actually listen. It should never cause stress, only joy. It should bring excitement and possibly induce a little bit of drooling.

If you've got the inspiration, now you pick the fabric. Fabric is awesome and the root of what we quilters do.

This is the second post in a monthly series on all the steps of making a quilt. Musings and thoughts on the process.

24 February, 2015

Upcoming Hand Applique Classes

With two heavy weeks of travel behind me I am so happy I have hand appliqué to keep me company. Long plane rides, lonely nights in a hotel room, and an overwhelming need to sew something. Applique keeps my company through all that.

If you've not embraced the power of hand appliqué (and you live in or near Calgary) you can learn the basics from me at My Sewing Room.

I chose the Park pattern from Carolyn Friedlander for the class. It allows us to get a block prepped and basted and get to the appliqué. When we are learning the appliqué we cover the basics of needle turn as well the tricks for sharp corners, smooth curves, and finishing. This block has them all. (And it looks really cool.)

Last month I was basting this block in an open house at the store. So many people commented that they liked the block but would default to a zig zag stitch to get it done. Nothing wrong with that, but I think it misses the point. Hand appliqué isn't about getting it done fast. It is about the process for sure. But it is more about slowing down to sew and, frankly, the portability. Having an on the go project with no end in sight gets us sewing anytime, anywhere. And forces the deep breathes we all need more of as we move through the day.

To register for the class call My Sewing Room at 403-252-3711 and check it out in March, April, or May.

19 February, 2015

Quiltcon Quilt Keeping Me Warm

 Quiltcon Quilt
103'' x 94''

It takes a long time to finish the binding on a king sized quilt. That was a lot of Top Gear and random Discovery Channel shows sitting on the sofa by my husband. But I'm not complaining one bit because it was totally worth it for this quilt.

Started 2 years ago at the first QuiltCon in an Improv class with Denyse Schmidt, this quilt is a new favourite for me. I know improv, I'm very comfortable with it. Taking cues and following the process of someone else was refreshing. I may not use the brown paper bags Denyse starts with, but that go where you may and trusting your intuition is very similar to my approach a lot of the time. And she totally taught me to embrace the small pieces, the tiny, right alongside the large.

A year after QuiltCon I took out my initial blocks again and made more. Many, many more. Then I spent some time puzzling it together. For me, that part is probably the most fun. It is a challenge, for sure, but so much fun.

(Confused about that puzzling it together part? Check out my new class on CreativeLive all about that!)

A few days of work to get it all together and I was thrilled with the completed top. I was not thrilled with the prospect of quilting another king size quilt on my home machine, however. Especially because I wanted something more than straight lines on this. So I convinced my friend Andrea at Urban Quiltworks to play.

And boy did she do a stellar job!

She embraced the spirit of improv with her quilting as well. We settled on a lovely yellow thread from Wonderfil, then I left her to her own devices. She did some all over work, some line work, some dense parts, left some spaces open. If your eye wasn't already moving constantly with the piecing, the quilting will get it going. There is just so much to see. And so much additional texture created.

To be honest, I feel totally spoiled and honoured to have her work on this quilt. It is absolutely perfect. The right compliment between the piecing and the quilting for sure.

A few people that have seen this quilt have commented on the colour scheme. I must say, that was entirely unintentional. In Denyse's class you start with your chosen feature fabric - the black and white in my case - and her bags of scraps. You also pick a solid. I must admit that my hand was directed a little by my friend Jules as it blindly searched in the paper bag for my solid selection. I never, ever would have picked this weird green/grey/sage colour. But I am happy she led me to it.

At home, when making more blocks I used the initial fabrics found in the classroom blocks as my guide. Just tiny bits of orange, yellow, and that magenta tones. A bit of brown and blue. More grey. Overall it feels cool. There is no bright pink and only snippets of purple. It feels like there is a bit of control, but mostly just randomness. 

Actually, it feels like home to me and it is wonderful to have this beauty finished and keeping us warm at night.

16 February, 2015

Happy 50th Birthday to The Maple Leaf

It was Flag Day here in Canada the other day. And this year The Maple Leaf turned 50. Because we are Canadian the celebrations were somewhat subdued. Some people, however, really got caught up in it.

A few months back I had the pleasure of an email conversation with a quilter in Ontario. She was planning on a big celebration and wanted to include my Oh Canada quilt as part of it. And what an awesome job she did! Check out this clip on The National. (That's the nightly, national broadcast on the CBC for my international readers.)

It got me all excited that I decided to celebrate as well. So from now until the end of the month the Oh Canada pattern is on sale in my Etsy shop. $1 off for the PDF version and free shipping on the print version.


11 February, 2015

Caterpillar from Sherbet in A Month of Sundays

66'' x 85''

One day my nephew will understand exactly how much I love him because I put all this Charlie Harper cardinals fabric on the back of his quilt. For now he knows that I think he is pretty awesome and funny and cute and full of spirit. And he knows I want him to be warm and snuggly and have bright things around him. All because Aunty Cheryl made him a quilt.

This isn't his first quilt from me, he did get a baby quilt when he was born. But this is his first quilt as a boy. He's nearly 4 and within second of giving it to him he was running around the house with it as a cape, wrestling with his brother on it, and has slept with it every night since. Now that is a quilt success!

This quilt started off as a class sample for teaching Sherbet (from A Month of Sundays) last year at Quilt Canada. The class was great as I walked everyone through the steps for making this quilt. It is an easy quilt to make, but it takes some time with the cutting, strip piecing, cutting again, and assembly. It is worth every bit of effort.

When I decided to appropriate my class sample for my nephew I adjusted only the size of the final borders, making it more fitting for a twin bed.

With the original made in a lovely palette of low volume fabrics with a solid Snow background this version stands in sharp contrast. I definitely turned up the volume on this one! I think it works wonderfully both ways. Just shows that the patterns in A Month of Sundays don't have to be limited to low volume fabrics.

This quilt was quilted (by me) on the APQS long arm, rented at my LQS. I used a variegated thread in reds. oranges, and yellows from Wonderfil. In the end we called the pattern a watery meander. It came together quite quickly and worked perfectly.

As I said, one day my nephew will appreciate the depth of my love through this quilt (and my actions) but right now I think I can sense his total appreciation too.

04 February, 2015

Playing With Circles in Quilting - Part 2

Ride the Waves
50'' x70''

Improv curves are fun. In a fit one day last year I pulled out a playful and lovely combination of fabrics and made a whole bunch of blocks. It was just one of those quilts that came to be with no rhyme or reason. I'm pretty sure I had it done in just a couple of days. Then it sat. The moment passed and there was little motivation to finish it.

Then you realize that someone needs a pick me up, a hug as much as possible. And in your head you kind of realize that these fabrics are so her. So her, in fact, that you may have picked them with her in mind. You may have stuck with this size of quilt because it is the perfect size for her.

And then you finish it with big lines of loops because they are fun and everyone deserves a bit of fun. And she deserves a finished quilt so the loops make that happen too. So does binding it among a stack of quilts you feel you just have to get done for Christmas. That way you can give it to her when she most needs it.

Then she texts you that night to say how much it is helping in the dark and lonely moments and you realize that this is indeed why we work hard to make quilts for people we love. This way, love is all around them.

Even her dog approves. Then again, there is no accounting for taste.

The improv curves are easy to do and totally take any mystery out of curved piecing. There really are no mistakes with this technique. You can see that sometimes I doubled up the curves and other times they are just simple. All together they echo quarter circles. Which means you can use them like you would any other Drunkard Path block. I chose a setting that creates diagonal lines of movement across the quilt. Simple, fun, and effective.

Overall, that's what the quilt is - simple, fun, and effective. Design wise, yes. but also in spirit.

All year I am going to be posting more and more circle techniques. This is some time to play with circles and there are so many things to do beyond the basics. Join me for the monthly series, Playing with Circles in Quilting.

If you want more details on making circles or any of the techniques I introduce here, check out my Craftsy class: Inset and Applique Circles by Machine or my workshop in the book, Lucky Spool's Essential Guide to Modern Quiltmaking.

30 January, 2015

Talking Quilts... Inspiration

Keep your eyes open.
Keep your spirit open.
Carry a phone, a sketchbook, a photographic memory.
Never stop dreaming.
Look up, down, and all around.

And then...

I can never think of such cool things.
There is no way I could turn that into a quilt.
My brain just doesn't work that way.

(The texture of these boards with the mix of colour has me thinking about the woodgrain fabrics I've been collecting.)

Today I'm talking about inspiration. Namely, the inspiration for quilts. The colour combinations, patterns, and ideas that get us buying fabric, cutting it up, and sewing it back together. All in the name of a warm end product.

Quite often I am asked just where I get my inspiration. Frankly, it is kind of a hard question to answer. That's because, for one, there isn't a single answer. And two, you really never know when you will be inspired. Inspiration isn't something you can teach. Translating it, yes, but not finding it.

That means I will answer that it can be anything like...

... a toddler's scribbles (Inspired Improvisation)
... a handful of crayons and some painful experiences (2+2=4)
... family property (Roots)
... the tool of my trade (Sewing Machine Quilt)
... a hike with the family (Mountain Meadows)
... my flag (Oh Canada!)
... a necklace (Austin Circle Sampler)

Among others. 

(I've never actually made a rainbow quilt, but the lines on this sidewalk art for Pride have me thinking of trying something a little different when I do feel motivated to do one.)

There have been bundles of fabric that get me excited, colour combinations dancing around and waiting for the right pattern. It can be a feeling I get that needs to come out and fabric is the way. It can be a tile floor, a comment or request by my husband. Frankly, it can come from anywhere and you never know when it will hit. 

Then there will be times where nothing comes, nothing seems exciting, nothing gets you wanting to sew. For a creative person those times are really, really awful. Burnout, stress, being overwhelmed. When there is too much other stuff crowding your heart and stealing away your energy then the inspiration doesn't find you. Rather, you don't see it.

That's because it is always there. As people who work in colour and shape on a regular basis it is impossible to not see quilts in so much around us. When people ask me about finding inspiration the answer is truly in being able to see it for yourself. I can't give you my inspiration and expect you to get jazzed about it. I can only encourage you to see it as something you can do for yourself. The inspiration is there.

(One of those aspirational magazines you find in expensive hotels, but I loved both the art and the layout of this article.)

Those platitudes about opening your eyes and your heart are true. When we are closed off and walking around with blinders on we can't see everything that is around us. (I'll admit, there are times when this is a good thing.) To see the inspiration we need to be open to it.

I truly believe that we all need a way to capture the inspiration. A dedicated sketchbook works for me, as do pictures. The main reason I believe in capturing everything is that when the darker times come, you have reference material. You can show yourself things that once got you excited. It is also handy when a deadline of a baby or magazine looms, you have something to call on. Inspiration on demand is a hard thing.

Not everyone tracks things this way. Some prefer to let the good ideas stick around as they need to while the others trickle away as less exciting. Whatever works for you.

(Inner tubes, for my circle obsession. Plus, who doesn't love the turquoise of summer pools and Caribbean beaches?)

Quilt stores try to do a lot of this work for you. So do magazines, books, and pattern designers. Inspiration doesn't mean you are creating your own unique designs all the time. It is still inspiration when you are drawn to the cover of a pattern or the bundle the store put together. Does it get you excited to quilt? Does it make you want to create? Then it is inspiring. 

Inspiration isn't magical or ephemeral. Bluntly, inspiration is something pretty that makes us want to create. How and what you create is up to you. So, yes, keep your eyes open. Then get your butt in the seat and sew.

This is the first post in a monthly series on all the steps of making a quilt. Musings and thoughts on the process.