Creating a Quilt: Part 3 – Color Selection

Picking out the colors for a quilt is quite possibly my favorite part of the whole quilt-making process! I’m sure I’m not alone in this. There’s probably some scientific explanation about colors and endorphins and blah, blah, blah. All I know is that whenever I walk into a quilt shop and my eyes are inundated with so many beautiful colors, I instantly feel happier.

In the case this particular quilt, I started getting some ideas about colors when I was working on my prototype blocks. When I made the decision that I wanted to make the blocks more abstract, I thought using a minimal color scheme would work best. One block in particular struck my eye as far as the color palette. I really liked how the navy, black, and gray worked together.

At the same time, a fat quarter pack I had recently purchased from Gotham Quilts was sitting on my cutting table, and one of the colors in that pack kept calling out to me. It was Pear by Free Spirit. I have kind of become obsessed with this color. It’s a chartreuse with much more yellow in it than green. In certain lights it looks very yellow. But not quite. I love it. I decided I was going to use this color in my quilt no matter what. Everything else had to work with it.

During my prototyping phase, I finally decided I needed to start working with my real fabric because I was losing steam. I just wasn’t getting excited about testing out blocks in scraps anymore, and I knew if I started making the blocks for real my excitement would return. This meant it was time to make some final decisions on colors.

I chose one of my most basic blocks I had sketched out and tried it with navy, gray, and Pear. Then I tried it with black, gray, and Pear. I was also thinking about the sashing I would use around all of the blocks, so I tried several combinations. This process was a bit tedious, but it was necessary because I realized the navy wasn’t working the way I thought it would, at least not for this particular project. I also realized I wanted to frame each of the blocks in the Pear fabric. I think final color palette and the Pear frames will give the overall quilt a very graphic quality, something that will further the abstract design of the blocks.

I still haven’t figured out what color I will use for the sashing, but I can’t actually make that decision until I’ve made all of the blocks. So now it’s time to start making the blocks for real, and I’m so excited to be back on track. At the time of writing this post, I’ve made six blocks in my chosen color scheme and I’m really digging how they look.

I’d love to hear how you tackle the color selection process. Do you set parameters for yourself? Do you have a particular palette that you use for all of your projects? Do you just go with your gut and pick whatever calls to you? Tell us your process in the Comments section below, and let’s get a color conversation going! Happy crafting!

Portrait Quilt: A Happy Surprise

The current co-president of the Brooklyn Quilters Guild began a small group last year called Quilt Explorers. We are given prompts and are then tasked with interpreting those prompts into 20″ x 20″ mini quilts. It’s a fun way to experiment with new techniques, flex your creative muscles, and often surprise yourself with the finished result. At least that’s what usually happens for me, and the most recent prompt was no exception: A portrait quilt.

I decided I wanted to use my mother’s high school senior photo as the inspiration for my quilt. I currently don’t use appliqué, but I wanted to figure out how to get a similar result with piecing. My first idea was to create a pixelated quilt. I had never tried that before, and I thought it would be a fun interpretation. However, once I started working on it, I was not happy with the result. I’ll probably go back to the pixel idea one of these days, but I decided to change tack.

I had been having fun with improv curves, so I figured I would go ahead and try to piece the portrait using curved piecing throughout. I mean, I was getting pretty good at it, so it shouldn’t be too hard, right? Oof. The result was not pretty.

I was feeling pretty dejected at this point, so I decided to put the portrait quilt project to the side. However, I had an idea for how to piece eyes that I wanted to try out. So I grabbed my smallest hexi template, cut out some fabric, and then pieced around it until I came up with a couple of really cool eyes. Suddenly I was inspired! I realized I could use these as the kernel for my portrait quilt. But instead of using my mother’s photo I was just going to completely improv piece a random portrait and see what would happen. (And I was going to keep the improv curves to a minimum.)

The result was a pretty funky-looking woman that I’m totally happy with. I think I must have been drawing subconscious inspiration from the old Beetlejuice cartoons I used to watch on Saturday mornings as a kid because this character would have totally fit in.

If I had to do it again, I would definitely make some changes, especially for the nose. But overall, this turned out to be a happy ending. It is yet another example of where my initial couple of ideas completely failed, I wanted to give up, and then a burst of creative energy fueled me into a fun finish. In fact, I’m thinking at some point I’ll do a whole family of these portraits and make a “gallery” quilt out of them. I think that’ll be super fun!

Have you had any similar experiences? Have you started out a project one way and then ended with a completely different finish? I’d love to hear about it! Leave comments below and share your stories with all of us. Happy crafting!!

Baby’s First Chevron: When Creativity Is the Only Solution

One of my favorite times of the month is receiving the instructions for the Brooklyn Quilters Guild block of the month in our newsletter. Like many guilds, our members all come into the monthly meeting with a completed block and then put their names into a raffle. The winner takes home all of the blocks, out of which they can presumably make a quilt. Last October’s block was the Chevron.

Unfortunately, the meeting that month coincided with a big quilting retreat that many of the guild members attended, which meant there were a total of five Chevron Blocks submitted for the raffle. And I was the big winner of five 5.5″ square blocks. Yay?

For those of you reading this who might not be aware, you can’t really make a quilt out of five 5.5″ square blocks. You could make a pillow maybe. You could make five separate mug rugs (a.k.a. quilted coasters). But even a baby quilt needs more square footage than what these little blocks could provide. What to do? What to do?

My first attempt at a solution was to send out an eblast to the guild begging everyone, especially the members who missed out on the October meeting, to bring in more Chevron Blocks to the November meeting. Many members stepped up to the challenge. Yay!

I also made a call out for more blocks at the actual November meeting, hoping to play on everyone’s sympathies. Then I made the discovery that the scraps from the December block of the month could be made into two smaller Chevron blocks! So I sent out yet another eblast asking people to either give me their scraps or go ahead and create the smaller chevrons and pass them on to me at the December meeting.

The resulting total of Chevron blocks went from five to 45! Not bad! Now I had something to work with. I probably could have made a few more blocks myself and put them all together into a traditional Chevron baby quilt, but I decided I wanted to do something a little more modern and also bigger. It was time to pull out the ol’ design wall.

Because I live in a small one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, NY, the only wall wide enough for a true design wall is my hallway. I use a very large piece of cotton batting in which I’ve hammered grommets, and I hang it from nails along the top of the wall. It ain’t pretty, but it does the job and I can lay out queen-sized quilts before piecing them together to make sure everything looks the way I want it to look.

I laid out the chevrons on my design wall and started rearranging them over and over until I found an overall design I was happy with. This quilt was going to have a lot of negative space, so I needed to work in chunks as I figured out how much background fabric I needed for each section. It came together pretty quickly, and I started getting excited about how I was going to quilt all of that negative space.

In keeping with the modern aesthetic, I decided to do simple, straight-line quilting, and I was able to create some fun overall designs by extending the lines of the chevrons and weaving them in and out of each other.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the super-cool flannel backing! My friend Shannon and I went to a couple quilt shops in Lancaster, PA, last spring, and we made an amazing discovery at Zook’s Fabric Store. I don’t know if the incredibly low prices were because of the quilt shows going on in the area or if it’s just the norm, but their fabrics were crazy cheap! I was so excited to pick up several yards of this black-and-white chevron flannel to use as the backing for this baby quilt.

To finish it all off, I went with a very simple white binding because I wanted the chevrons to just float on the quilt without a concrete frame around them. I am very pleased with the result. I think this turned out to be a really modern-looking baby quilt for a family that is not so into the more traditional decor styles. To think, this all started with five little blocks!

Have you ever had to find creative solutions to what seemed like a problem at first and then turned out beautifully? I’d love to hear your stories, so please share in the comments section below! Happy crafting!!

Critique: A Productive Tool When Conducted Properly

I dread criticism. My fourth grade teacher told my parents that I needed to learn to accept failure or else I would go crazy at some point in my life. If I answered a question wrong or if something I made wasn’t immediately praised as perfect, I would burst into tears. Not a very productive or sustainable personality trait, but I have a feeling I’m not alone here. How many of you live in fear of your year-end reviews at work? Who actually enjoys being told they’re not good enough? (Even though that’s not what is actually being said, but that’s what we hear, right?)

As an adult I’ve certainly learned to accept failure and even grow from it. I’ve accepted the fact that I am by no means perfect in anything and that I am often wrong. This has brought much inner peace. Yet I still find it very difficult to reach out and ask for other people’s opinions about my creative work — even my closest and most respected and talented friends. I suppose this has something to do with how our creative work is an expression of our inner selves, our souls, and any sort of criticism can be taken so personally. This reluctance for criticism persists even though I’ve always ended up with an improved outcome whenever I’ve received feedback on a work in progress.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of being an outside observer of critiques at various prestigious art and design programs. When done well, those critiques have been immensely helpful to the recipients. But “when done well” is the key phrase in that sentence, and this is what today’s post is all about. This is my opinion on how to conduct a helpful critique that will hopefully not only help the overall result of a final piece of work but also leave everyone feeling happy about the overall process. Keep in mind, these guidelines are specifically for conducting critiques of works in progress and not at all meant for writing professional art criticism about finished works.

You’ll often hear people say that you should start a critique with something positive before giving a criticism. While I believe that is well-intentioned, I personally feel that “positive” and “negative” shouldn’t really even be part of a critique. A critique isn’t about telling an artist your personal preferences about what you think is good and bad art. The purpose of a critique is to simply tell the artist what you see specifically and how it makes you feel generally. Then the artist can decide whether or not that’s what they intended. If it is, great! If not, they can think about the changes they want to make accordingly.

With that in mind, as the person giving a critique, relate what you feel generally in terms of emotions and what you see specifically in terms of formal techniques like composition, line, color, etc. When expressing these observations, try not to add your personal opinions to what you see. For instance, when looking at a quilt design, you might say something like, “It looks like a series of traditional quilt blocks, which isn’t really my thing, but the colors are all very bright and modern looking, which I like. I’m sorry but because there is such a large variety of bright colors, my eye has trouble focusing on an overall pattern; I have a hard time seeing a background/figure relationship in the overall pattern, so you should think about switching out some of the colors for some neutrals. All together it gives me the feeling of a celebratory atmosphere with loud music and people are dancing and partying hard, which I think is pretty cool.”

One of the most important things to avoid in a critique is being prescriptive. Never use phrases like, “You should do this” or “I would have done that.” The critique is not your big opportunity to show everyone in the room how smart you are or how exquisite your taste is. No one cares that you would have used a gray thread for the quilting instead of red. However, something like this would be much more helpful. “The thread color you used for the quilting really stands out against the fabrics you chose, so the quilting design becomes more of the focus than the piecing. Was that your intention?”

The person receiving the critique can always ask for advice or more personal feedback such as, “I actually don’t want the quilting to stand out, so what thread color would you suggest?” But that is their prerogative. You should only give prescriptive advice when asked for it or if you’re teaching a very specific technique and the goal of the class is for every student to actually master the technique.

Let me know what you think about both giving and receiving feedback. What do you find most helpful? Have you ever received criticism that actually hindered your creative process? Go ahead and give me some constructive criticism in the comments section below! Happy creating!!!