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!!!

Creating a Quilt: Part 2 – Prototyping

Last week’s post was about coming up with the idea for an original quilt. This week is about my least favorite part of the creation process — prototyping. Ugh. In past posts I’ve mentioned how I love every aspect of the quilting process, but I lied! Prototyping is a necessary evil to all acts of creation, whether you’re making a quilt, repainting your bedroom walls, or designing a more efficient way to get through airport security. (Could someone get on that, by the way??) The reason I do not like prototyping is because it consumes so much time and energy and even resources (like thread and fabric if we’re talking about quilts), resulting in 99% of the work being thrown out. But it’s that final 1% that makes prototyping an absolutely essential ingredient to the creation process. It’s so much better to spend all of that time and energy figuring out what works and, more importantly, what does NOT work right at the beginning rather than getting halfway through a quilt top only to discover you should have done it all differently.

And so I have begun my prototyping process. I’m going to share my failures and what I’ve learned so far. I still have more prototyping to do, but I think you’ll get the idea of how beneficial this is from what I’ve accomplished so far.

One of the aspects of my design that I need to figure out is the size of each of the blocks. I decided to pick one of my sketches that would probably require the largest size block and see where to go from there. The block is based on the view of Manhattan from the Brooklyn Promenade in Brooklyn Heights. Keep in mind I’m just using scrap fabric, so this is not necessarily the color scheme I’m going with for the overall quilt. I like the overall outcome of this block, especially the railing of the promenade, but I made my first discovery soon after finishing this block. I realized that this was looking way too literal for my overall vision of the quilt. After making this block I realized I really want my blocks to be far more abstract. Simply by splitting the skyline from the promenade, I created two abstract blocks that I preferred far more than the original one.

Next, I decided to work on some improv curves, which I’m kind of obsessed with. I actually really like how this bicycle wheel came out and probably won’t change too much about it, other than the colors. But this block brought up yet another important discovery for me. I really liked the size of it. But I still hadn’t decided if I wanted all of my blocks to be the same size or if I wanted to mix them all up. I could visualize each way, and they both appealed to me.

Since I had such success with my bicycle wheel, I decided to attempt more improv curves with my cockroach block. Blech! What a disaster! The first one did not work AT ALL. For the second attempt, I created two separate blocks and then sewed them together. It’s better, but it’s still not what I ultimately want. I’ll need to keep working on this one before I attempt it with whatever real fabrics I’ll ultimately choose for the quilt.

As I was thumbing through my sketches I realized many of my blocks will use a grid, so I decided to make a little sample of that to see how that would turn out. Once again, I made an important discovery, which was about how thick I wanted to grid lines to be.

I then made what turned out to be my largest block yet, which is based on a fire hydrant. I actually like how it turned out, though the curves at the bottom of the block were not ideal. That’s when I realized I actually have smaller circle templates that I should have been using. Important lesson, people — utilizing all of your resources requires you to actually remember all of the resources you have!!

The last block I’ve worked on so far is my subway train block. When I finished it I thought it was fine. Just fine. But something was bugging me about it. The next day I was working out and staring at all of the blocks I’d made in between sets and — boom! — I had a big ol’ revelation. I decided to cut that subway train down to a 5.5″ square, and I really liked how it became a bit more abstract and more like a random modern quilt block than an attempt to create a realistic subway train. It was a very subtle difference but really impacted my thinking.

I then decided to cut down my fire hydrant block to see if that improved as well. And it did! I think the extra blood pumping into my brain during my workout helped me work through this problem, so I encourage you all to incorporate regular physical exercise into your creative process. It really helps!!

So now I’ve made some decisions about my overall quilt design. Because I’m ultimately an improv piecer, I’m going to be using improv piecing for all of my blocks, which means they’re all going to come out to whatever size they come out to. But then I’m going to cut them all down to 5.5″ squares. And depending on how large the original blocks turn out, I might be able to get more than one 5.5″ square out of it. This also means I’m definitely making my blocks more abstract than realistic. Perhaps a future Brooklyn-inspired quilt will use these same sketches for something more realistic, but this one is going to be modern as hell (or at least that’s my goal).

My last important bit for this post is stressing the importance of actually notating all of these discoveries somehow. I’m using Google Keep on my phone to list all of my thoughts so far. This whole process is going to take some time, so I need to make sure I don’t forget some crucial discovery I made the month prior once I actually start sitting down to my machine with the real fabric.

For now, I need to keep prototyping and fine tuning my ideas. While I don’t really enjoy this part of the process, I am well aware that it is far from a waste of time. And what about you? Have you ever created something from a completely original idea? What was your process like for making it a reality? Please share your thoughts and ask any questions in the comments section below. Happy creating!!

Creating a Quilt: Part 1 – Inspiration and Ideation

The Brooklyn Quilters Guild 2020 quilt show is coming up, and I finally came up with an idea for the quilt I want to make for it. My friend Shannon Reed (@knittingchick on Instagram and @sreed151 on Twitter) suggested I use this as an opportunity to post my process from the very beginning to the very end of the quilt’s journey. I thought that was such a great idea, so here we go! Thanks, Shannon!

When I’m trying to think up a completely new quilt, the first thing I do is look for inspiration. Sometimes the inspiration is given to me by a prompt for a quilt challenge or contest. Sometimes — VERY rarely — the idea just pops into my head fully formed and my finished product looks exactly like what I pictured in my head from the very beginning. This happens very rarely for me. In fact, it’s maybe happened one time so far. Generally, I’m a big fan of prompts and parameters.

In this case, however, my inspiration came in a roundabout way and I just allowed my brain to take that curvy path to what I think will be a pretty cool quilt. I’ve been looking at all the beautiful quilt blocks people have been posting on Instagram for the Tula Pink #100blocksin100days challenge inspired by her City Sampler book, which happens around this time every year. And then I was chatting on my Facebook page with Johnny Barfuss (@johnnybarfuss on Instagram) who had suggested I take a look at Elizabeth Hartman‘s book Patchwork City, and I mentioned I had been thinking about designing my own blocks. Like all good quilters, Johnny was very encouraging. So I started doodling some blocks in my sketchbook without any ultimate goal in mind.

When I looked into Elizabeth Hartman’s book, I read how her blocks were inspired by objects and places in her daily life, and — boom! — that was when inspiration struck. Eureka! I realized I could combine this desire to design some new blocks with my desire to create an original quilt for the upcoming quilt show. I would sketch out a bunch of images that pop in my head when I think specifically of Brooklyn. Then I would make those into a series of blocks and create a Dear Brooklyn sampler quilt, as an homage to the Dear Jane quilts that I ogle every time I go to a quilt show.

My first step was listing all of the ideas I could think of for my quilt blocks. At this point I wasn’t thinking about what would make a good block and what would be impossible. I just let the ideas flow and kept the list going. This is the beginning of the ideation phase (just in case that’s a new concept for you). In the design world, the ideation phase generally involves a whiteboard and hundreds of Post-its. My version involves my smartphone’s Google Keep app and a sketchbook.

Once I had a good-sized list, I started sketching the ideas out. My sketches varied between abstract and realistic because I hadn’t decided yet what direction I ultimately wanted to take my quilt. I think it’s important at this very early stage of the creative process that you don’t put too many limitations on yourself. Editing will come later and is necessary for the final product, but right now just allow yourself to create anything and everything that comes to mind. You never know — one of those absurd, impossible ideas might end up being what works the best.

I started looking over the several sketches I had drawn and decided I wanted my quilt blocks to lean more towards abstraction versus realism. In fact, right now I’m thinking I want them to be so abstract that someone looking at my quilt won’t even necessarily know the reference material for each of the blocks. So I started making thumbnail sketches of the more realistic blocks, focusing on a small section of the overall sketch. As the creator of the quilt, I want to be able to look at the blocks and know exactly what inspired them, so I don’t necessarily want the blocks to be super abstract. But on the other hand, I’m not so concerned that anyone else looking at the quilt will be able to instantly see the source material for each block. In other words, I’ll know that block with a series of curves was inspired by a cockroach, but a random viewer of my quilt would probably never guess that’s how the block came about.

And that’s where I’m at so far. I still have a lot of sketching to do for most of my ideas. The next phase will be playing with scraps of fabric to see how the blocks work in reality and not just on paper, so you can look forward to seeing how that turns out in the next post about this process. I’d love to hear about how you find inspiration in your quilting and other craft projects. Do you prefer parameters when you’re creating? Or are you someone who can some up with ideas completely out of the blue? Please share in the comments section below, and let’s get a conversation started. Happy quilting!

Quilt Shop Road Trip – August 2019

I grew up in Maumee, OH, a suburb of Toledo. My parents and brother and his family still live there, so I try to visit at least twice a year. My foray into quilting has given me a fun new way of re-exploring my hometown and the area by finding local quilt shops. My latest trip was the best one yet!

I discovered The Quilt Foundry fairly soon after I started quilting two and a half years ago. It’s located in downtown Maumee in the historic Buttergilt Building. The shop consists of two large rooms filled with bolts of fabrics as well as an additional spacious classroom and workshop area. I try to get to this shop every time I’m visiting the family, and I’m never disappointed. My only regret about this shop is that I wasn’t quilting when I actually lived in Maumee, so I wasn’t able to take advantage of all of its myriad offerings. Although maybe it’s for the best because I don’t know if my bank account could have survived a quilting addiction at such a young age!

My mom helped me with researching more quilt shops in the area and found the Quilters Travel Companion, a website with maps and links to various quilt shops and quilt shows all across the United States and Canada. That’s how we discovered The Door Mouse just outside of Bettsville, OH. This is an area of Ohio I’ve never really explored, so it was fun driving through the country. We even spotted a couple of barn quilts, though I sadly did not take any pictures of them. (Must be better about these things!) The Door Mouse is a huge store in a renovated barn out in the middle of nowhere. They have pretty much any style of quilting cotton you could want as well as a huge selection of flannels.

My niece is a little bit obsessed with Ann Arbor, MI, which is just about an hour’s drive north of Toledo. So we decided to take a day trip over the state border, and of course I had to visit at least one of the local quilt shops while we were there. Now, I’m going to admit that looking at the photos of the exterior of the Ann Arbor Sewing Center, I thought it was going to be kind of a lackluster shop without a lot of personality. Boy, was I happily wrong!! This shop has a HUGE selection of fabrics in all styles. They also sell a large variety of Bernina, Husqvarna Viking, and Pfaff sewing machines. I had a truly lovely conversation with one of the staff and Doni Houghtaling, one of the owners of the store. I truly felt welcomed, and if I lived in Ann Arbor I would definitely be taking advantage of their full range of classes and clubs they offer every day of the week.

We visited the final quilt shop of my trip on our way down to see family in Cincinnati. We took a quick detour to Loveland, OH, and stopped by The Quilter’s Studio of Loveland. This is yet another enormous quilt shop, boasting nearly 5,000 bolts of fabric. And, man, if you love batiks, this shop is an absolute MUST. In addition to the hundreds of batiks, they have a great selection of contemporary quilting cottons. They also have four longarm machines that were being rented out by four customers when we visited the shop, all of whom were more than happy to show off their gorgeous quilts to my parents and me.

My quilt shop road trip did not disappoint in the least. I am always amazed at just how friendly and helpful every single person I’ve ever met in a quilt shop is. I mean, seriously! It must not be possible to work in a quilt shop without being the friendliest person on the planet! The quilting community is a true community in the best sense of the word, and I feel so fortunate every day to be part of it.

I’d love to hear about your favorite quilt shops — where are they located? What do you love about them? Any fun stories you want to share? Please leave a comment and show some quilt shop love!!

Social Media – for Better and for Worse

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has a love/hate relationship with social media. How many of you have decided to take a social media break at some point in the last five years? I’ve personally never taken a complete break, but I’ve certainly seen my participation ebb and flow over the years. Using social media to keep up with friends and family, to participate in communities around the world, and to even have a successful career can be amazing. But – and I know I’m not spouting off anything new here – it’s not all wine and roses, folks. I’m really interested to hear your opinions about social media and how you use it (or don’t use it). I’m also interested in hearing your tips about how to use it successfully and how you keep yourself from going crazy with it. So please add your comments and let’s get a conversation going through this blog. (Which is yet one more example of social media!)

I’ve been a somewhat reluctant adopter of social media. It took me a while to create a Facebook account. I only joined Instagram about two and a half years ago. I just created a Twitter account a couple months ago. I’ve always had a bit of an inner struggle between wanting to put myself out there and share my thoughts and achievements with everyone versus relishing my privacy and not wanting everyone up in my business all the time.

I certainly acknowledge the benefits that social media can provide. I started my Instagram account when I decided to try out quilting because I thought it would be a fun way to both archive my progress and add a little accountability to my process – it put a bit of pressure on me to keep creating. To my surprise, what I have ended up loving most about Instagram is the amazing community of quilters from all over the world with whom I’ve connected. I think that’s where social media really shines. I post a pic of my latest quilt and I receive such beautiful encouragement. Whenever I have a question about a technique, I receive so much helpful advice.

And of course my whole quilting journey began with social media by taking a class on Craftsy (now mybluprint.com). I actually loved that I could sit in the privacy of my home and try out a brand new craft without any of the pressure I would normally feel in a classroom situation with a live instructor and students. And Craftsy was great about taking advantage of social media to give that classroom feeling by allowing all of the students who had taken the class to post comments and questions, to which the instructor would always respond. I took the class many years after it had originally been posted on the site, and the instructor still answered my questions rather speedily. I honestly may never have tried quilting if it weren’t for the magic of social media.

But as we all know by now, social media has its pitfalls. I’m sure we all have our individual issues with social media, and feel free to commiserate. I mentioned above how I joined Instagram so that there was a little bit of pressure to keep creating. Well, be careful what you wish for, right? I think my main personal issue with social media is the pressure I feel to keep posting and then when I’m not creating anything new, I feel like such a failure. I can logically tell myself that it’s healthy to take time away from your craft so that you can recharge your creative energy, but then I scroll through my Instagram feed and see people churning out amazing work over and over again and I feel so inadequate.

On the other hand, I know some people end up spending more time scrolling through all of their various social media apps than actually doing anything. I’m generally a pretty good manager of my time, so this isn’t a real problem for me. But I can see how much of a time suck this can become. Thankfully there are lots of apps that help with limiting your time online. If you’re having time management issues, I highly suggest you look at the settings on your phone, computer, and tablets and adjust them to help you with that.

And while social media provides so many resources to try new things, it can sometimes be overwhelming. You see so much amazing work online, and then you think, “Man, I will never be able to do that so I just won’t even try.” If that’s something you’re having issues with, I really, really, really hope you’re able to overcome those thoughts and just start making. We all have something unique to offer, so please don’t let us suffer by not being able to see what are sure to be your beautiful creations!

And of course one of the worst aspects of social media is the bullying. It just sucks. If you have control over the content you’re publishing online, you can police the comments so Internet trolls don’t get to post their nasty BS on your site. Unfortunately, you still have to read the comments before you decide to approve or block them. It just sucks. If your content is being published on a larger site that allows all comments to be published, I just advise not to read the comments. Self-care, people. Don’t let the trolls get you down. Man, they really suck.

All that said, I do believe that social media is pretty frickin’ amazing. While I do suggest you practice self-awareness when it comes to spending time and energy online and with all your apps, it’s really such a wonderful way to learn and grow and connect with pretty cool people from around the world. So, hey, how about you connect with me and let me know your thoughts about all of this!

Quilting 101: Color Theory

I imagine most of you crafty, quilty people out there have a natural sense of color — what you like and don’t like, what colors work together, etc. — so you may dismiss any sort of deep dive into color theory, preferring to stick with your intuitive sense of color rather than thinking too much about it. I totally get that! And I don’t necessarily disagree. Trusting your own color sense is very important as an artist. But I also believe that knowledge is power, and having even a little bit of knowledge can elevate your color game.

Before I go any further, I have a big ol’ disclaimer. I am by no means a color theory expert. I have sat in on a couple different color theory classes, though never as an actual student. This post is just brushing the surface, so if you are fascinated by the topic or you want to really up your color game I strongly urge you to check out some of the resources I’ll list at the end of the post.

Something to keep in mind is that color is science. Every color is a specific frequency of light that we can see because of the rods and cones in our eyes. And while most of us do not need to spend years studying the science of light and color theory in order to create visually stunning pieces of art, having a basic understanding of how colors actual work together can help you in those moments when something is just not coming together and you can’t intuitively figure it out.

Most of us learned about the primary, secondary, and tertiary colors in grade school. You start with pure red, yellow, and blue. Those are your primaries.

When you mix red and yellow, you get orange. Yellow and blue give you green. Blue and red = violet. Those are your secondaries.

Then your tertiary colors are red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet. All of these colors can be beautifully organized in a color wheel to show their relationship to each other.

As a heads up, many color theory classes these days work with a different set of primaries, secondaries, and tertiaries based on printer colors. I am not going to go into any detail, but I just wanted to mention it in case you encounter it elsewhere. So if someone tells you that the primary colors are magenta, cyan, and yellow, they are not selling you a line of BS. They’re just working with a different color wheel.

When I’m thinking about color and a quilt design, I generally think about figure, background, and contrast. What do I want to stand out in my quilt? What do I want to blend in? Do I want any transparency effects? These questions are often better answered when you have a grasp on color theory versus just relying on your intuition.

In order to understand how color can help define a figure from a background, let’s start with some basic color vocabulary. To get a grasp on these definitions, I’m going to use one color. Let’s go with green. Hue is the name of a color. Green is a hue.

Saturation is the intensity, or purity, of a hue. Adding gray to a hue will lessen the saturation, making it look duller.

Value is how light or dark a hue is. Adding white to a hue gives it a lighter tint. Adding black to a hue gives it a darker shade.

Looking at a color wheel can quickly help you see the relationships colors have to each other. The colors that are opposite each other on the wheel are complementary. Red and green, blue and orange, violet and yellow. Complementary colors provide striking visual contrast. And depending on the saturation you use, it can even make your eyes do some funky things and create visual effects.

Analogous colors are next to each other on the color wheel. They blend together very easily which is often soothing to the eye.

When I’m thinking about a quilt design, I think about what I want to stand out, which I call the figure. The “figure” could be an actual object, but it could also be just the main design motif that I want to emphasize in the overall quilt. Most everything else is the background.

Here’s something you have possibly never really thought about. If you want to create depth in your design and you’re using a dark background color, warm colors — red, orange, yellow — will appear closer, and cool colors — violet, blue, green — will appear farther. However, if you’re working with lighter backgrounds, the opposite is true. Isn’t that fascinating? This is one of those examples where knowing the science can be helpful because you wouldn’t necessarily know this intuitively.

Sometimes I see people struggle with losing their overall quilt design because they smashed together all of their favorite colors rather than selecting colors that provide enough contrast to create figure and background. When you’re looking at your quilt design, decide what part of the design you want to stand out. Use your favorite colors for that part. Then use a neutral for the rest, and that will be the background of the design. Your “neutral” can even be a color, but make sure it is very different in saturation and/or a significantly different tint or shade from the main colors of your design.

If you’re still struggling with your figure disappearing into your background, take a photo of your quilt design with your chosen colors with your phone. Then use one of your photo editing apps to turn into a black-and-white picture. Now you can really see the saturation level of each color by seeing them in the grayscale.

If all of your colors are close to or have the same level of gray in your picture, you might want to pick some different tints or shades of certain colors so that the main part of your design will stand out.

And stepping away from color just a bit, what I just said above can apply to print patterns as well. I love me some scrappy quilts, but make sure you’re creating contrast with high-volume prints and low-volume prints so that your overall design doesn’t disappear due to lack of contrast among all of the different prints you’ve chosen.

I think I’m going to stop now because, honestly, my knowledge only goes so far. However, I want to give you some great resources if you decide you want to really dive into the details of color theory. My first suggestion is find a local color theory class offered by a college or university or local artisan. Not only will you get firsthand knowledge from experts in their field, but you’ll also work on projects that will really cement the lessons. If that’s not possible for you, there are plenty of tutorials online. One of those tutorials is “Color Theory for Quilters” with Katie Pasquini Masopust for iQuilt.com. It is not free, but it is specifically geared for quilters so it’s worth a look. I also really like the website worqx.com. It goes through many aspects of color theory in a relatively simple manner. There are also some fun games you can download to your phone like I Love Hue and Blendoku. Either game is a fun way to get a better feel about how colors work together.

I would LOVE to hear from YOU about your own color theory journeys and ideas. We all see and think about color differently, and no one is ever wrong as long as they love what they’ve created. Please share your stories in the comment section below. Happy Quilting!!

Designing My First Original Quilt: A Step-by-step Guide

The quilt featured on my home page is the very first original quilt I ever designed, pieced, and quilted all on my own. In making this quilt I had the epiphany that I feel so much more joy when I create a quilt from scratch rather than following someone else’s instructions. This is not a judgment for anyone else’s process or creative expression. We are all on our own journeys, and I respect and honor that. But for me, I find more fulfillment realizing my own creative ideas versus someone else’s. In this post, I want to take you through the process of creating this quilt from start to finish. If you haven’t tried designing your own quilt, I hope this inspires you to rise to the challenge. You might be surprised how it could change your outlook on your creative process!

This particular quilt started with a prompt. The Brooklyn Quilters Guild was gearing up for its 2018 quilt show, and the co-presidents put out a mini quilt challenge to celebrate the guild’s 25th anniversary. We were given the following parameters.

R E Q U I R E M E N T S :

Shades of gray (white OK)

A drop of red, not more the 3 x 3 inches or less than 1 x 1 inch.

40 x 40-inch quilt

Quilt pattern of your choice

Quilt must have sleeve, label, and name attached.

Keep in mind that we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of our guild, our new location at Industry City, and a little modern twist. Be creative, have fun, and make some beautiful fiber art.

I didn’t really know this about myself at this point since this was my first original quilt, but I have since realized that I love prompts and parameters. Creating something out of thin air does not come easy for me, so I need a starting off point, even something rather open like the above prompt. I began thinking about being a Brooklyn quilter and a New Yorker. I had been seeing a lot of New York Beauty quilts online recently (see photo below), and I thought it might be fun to do an industrial twist on that idea.

I opened up Electric Quilt 8 (EQ8) on my computer and drafted a block that resembled a quarter of a cogwheel.

One of the many benefits of working in EQ8 is that I was then able to print out paper templates for the block.

I grabbed some fabric scraps and created a very rough draft of the block just to make sure everything fit together and the dimensions were correct.

Then I went back into EQ8 to begin playing with the overall quilt layout. The images below are just a couple of layouts I tried out. Using the computer program allowed me to make quick adjustments without having to actually sew all of the blocks together like you would with a design wall.

Now it was time to figure out the real fabric I wanted to use. I found a great fabric shop on Etsy called AA Cotton Creations, and they had just what I was looking for. I chose a light gray background fabric with just a touch of metallic glitter to honor the silver anniversary of the guild. Then I decided to go with Kona Cotton in Metal because, you know, the cogwheels are made out of metal. Nothing too mind blowing there! Once the fabrics arrived, I began cutting them up and piecing them together into my 16 blocks.

After piecing all 16 blocks, I realized I might not like how the center spokes come together once the blocks are sewn to each other. I decided to piece four of the blocks together to make one complete cogwheel to see how it would look.

AAAHHH!!! That is NOT what I wanted the center of my cogwheels to look like! I went online to look at actual cogwheels and realized I was missing the essential central hub. So I picked these blocks apart and added another quarter circle to each block.

Wow! What a difference that made! I talked about process in my previous post, and this is yet another example of how the creative process is usually not a barrier-free journey from beginning to end. Don’t let these challenges discourage you. Get that problem-solving brain working and overcome these obstacles because the end result will be so much more worthwhile!

Now that the top was pieced together, it was time to quilt. I really liked how modern this quilt looked, so I wanted the quilting to reflect that same feeling. I decided to quilt straight lines going from top to bottom in the background. But because I wanted a feeling of movement to come from the cogwheels, I quilted straight lines moving in the direction of each of the teeth of the cogs. I filled the hubs with thread to give them a fun texture.

I had my friend Ryan come over as a second pair of eyes to look at what I had done so far, and he wanted to see some red thread used in the quilt. That’s when I thought of having the red piece start to emit its own light in opposition to the rest of the lines. Then I quilted gem-like lines in between the center spokes so that I could have the red “gem” start to crack and break. I thought a silver metallic thread would be a fun way to add just a bit more glitz to the quilt to emphasize how this red piece was breaking out from the machine.

And that’s pretty much it! I love how this quilt came together. There were many frustrating moments, but I couldn’t have been happier once it all finally coalesced into my first original quilt. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you think about creating an original quilt versus following someone else’s pattern. What brings you more joy? Tell me what you think. Happy Quilting!!!

Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza, September 2018

The Craft of Quilting: Process

Many moons ago, I earned a degree in Musical Theater. Tra-la-la!! As I was learning how to sing to the balcony without ripping out my vocal cords and how to form the perfect pair of Fosse jazz hands, I also learned about the difference between art and craft. The art of acting — or painting or playing the violin or dance, etc. — is not easily defined and can be associated with vaguely defined terms like “talent” or “the it factor.” The ability to tap into that mysterious inner fire of creation is essential to any artist. But equally essential is the development of one’s craft in conjunction with their art. Yes, to be a successful actor, you need to have that inherent ability to capture the attention of a 1,500-seat theater full of people and bring them with you on your character’s journey. But being able to successfully do that eight performances a week, 50 weeks a year requires craft.

Now, I have to admit that when I first started quilting, I didn’t think too much about any of this. I mean, sure, I was learning techniques and trying to improve each time I pieced a block together, which is part of honing one’s craft. But as long as I was following someone else’s instructions to achieve their design, the idea of process never really crossed my mind. In fact, it wasn’t until my third original quilt that I realized I couldn’t wing my way through designs that were percolating in my head and just expect them to appear fully formed under my sewing machine.

You see, I had decided to create a quilt as a housewarming gift for a very dear friend. Because she is a fellow crafter, I knew she would have no problem with me experimenting a bit with my scrap bin to make something fun. I decided I would make a bunch of Log Cabin blocks using a somewhat random selection of scraps and just kind of figure out the rest as I went along. After I made about 11 or 12 blocks, I decided to slap them up on my design wall to see what order I wanted to put them in, and I was horrified by the result. They looked horrible together!! It didn’t matter what order I put them in. They all completely clashed with each other, and I had a fit because I had spent so much time making all of them.

After I managed to calm down, I stood and stared at the blocks for a very long time. I mean, like, a really long time. (One of the things I’ve learned about myself over the years is that I am not a quick thinker.) I gave myself permission to just stand and stare and let my creative juices do some behind-the-scenes work in my brain.

I eventually came up with a couple solutions. One, I would use sashing to put some much needed space between each of the blocks. Two, I would frame each block with the same navy blue I had used for the center square of each Log Cabin. Once I tried that on a few of the blocks and put them back up on the design wall, I realized it was actually going to look amazing!

This was a big epiphany for me. I thought, Oh, yeah! This whole designing-a-quilt-thing is actually a process! Sometimes ideas work, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they don’t work until you try something two or three or four more times. And that’s great because it means you’re thinking like an artist! No one creates perfect pieces of art out of thin air no matter how brilliant they are. You have to ponder, sketch, workshop, rehearse, change your direction, think outside the box, and all of that good stuff before you actually achieve your vision.

Now I want to offer a few suggestions specific to quilters who want to start working on their process.

  • Sketch out your ideas or use a program to help you sketch out your ideas
  • Get a design wall
  • Make test blocks using fabric you don’t care about
  • Don’t get frustrated when your test blocks don’t automatically come out how you wanted them to; use it as an opportunity to discover the changes you want to make
  • While it’s always great to stretch yourself and try new skills, don’t feel guilty if you decide you just don’t like certain techniques; embrace your strengths
  • Take an art class that has nothing to do with quilting and learn about composition, form, line, color theory, and all that good stuff that can elevate your quilt designs to a new level
  • Take photos throughout the process of your quilt so you have an archive of how you overcame past challenges
  • Don’t be afraid to ask others to look at what you’re making if you find yourself stuck, though be aware that some people do not know how to give a helpful critique (I should probably write a post about how to participate in a critique)

I’m sure if I sat here for another few hours, I could come up with many more suggestions, but I’ll stop here for now. Instead, I would now love to hear all about your process! Please leave a comment and share how your process works, so we can all help each other continue progressing through our exciting quilting journeys!

Quilting 101: Fabric selection

Time to talk about fabric — all the pretty, pretty fabric!!  I think addiction to fabric is one of the traits most of us quilters have in common.  I don’t know about you, but I can actually feel my pulse speed up as soon as I step into a quilt shop or a fabric store and see the bolts and bolts of color and texture all on display.  It’s magical! However, some people can get a little overwhelmed by all of this variety, so I’d like to break down fabric selection a little bit and hopefully help those quilters out who are looking for a little bit of guidance.  

Probably the easiest way to avoid fabric confusion is to buy a quilt kit.  Many quilt designers will sell a complete kit that includes the pattern of the quilt top as well as all of the fabric needed to piece it together.  You simply follow the instructions and your quilt will look just like the one pictured on the front of the kit. Along similar lines, if you just have the pattern but not the kit, you can do your best to find the fabric that most closely resembles the fabrics in the picture of the pattern.  If that is something you find difficult, you can always ask for help from the fabric store employee.  

If you want to take matters into your own hands and buy the fabric yourself — which I HIGHLY encourage — you’ll need to go to a store or order it online.  There are a few things you should know when buying fabric. At most quilt shops or fabric stores, you will have the choice to buy yardage from the bolt, or you can buy precuts.  

First, let’s talk about buying yardage.  Quilting cotton is usually about 43 or 44 inches from selvage to selvage.  This is known as the width of fabric (WoF).  The selvage is a very densely woven strip of threads where the fabric was attached to the industrial weaving machines that created the fabric.  The name of the designer, manufacturer, the title of the design, and the colors used in the design are all printed on the selvage, which can be very helpful information.  Because the selvage is a very different texture from the rest of the fabric, most quilters will cut it off and not use it in their quilts. That said, there are some quilters out there doing really creative, fun things with their selvage scraps.  If you decide to play around with your selvage, just be aware that it behaves differently than the regular fabric of your yardage, so you’ll need to experiment with it before using it in one of your actual projects.  

Before the fabric is wrapped around the bolt, it is folded in half.  So when you buy, for example, 2 yards of fabric, you’re buying a length of 2 yards at the width of fabric.  When you buy yardage, you will be sub-cutting it yourself into whatever shapes and sizes are required for your quilt pattern.  As I said, most bolts of fabric will have a 43- or 44-inch width of fabric, but there are also wide back fabrics that have a 104- or 108-inch width of fabric.  This is specifically designed to be used for the backing of your quilt so that you don’t have to piece the back of your quilt.  

You can also buy packages of fabric that have already been cut into varying sizes and coordinated with each other.  These are known as pre-cuts.  There are packs of 5-inch squares, 10-inch squares, 2.5-inch wide strips that are the length of the width of fabric, and fat quarters, which are generally 18-inch by 22-inch rectangles — my favorite kind of pre-cut!  You’ll hear different terms thrown around to describe these precuts such as charm packs, layer cakes, or jelly rolls. Those are actually trademarked terms from Moda, a very popular fabric company, but many people use these terms the same way we say, “I could use a Kleenex,” rather than tissue.  

One of the great things about precuts when it comes to fabric selection is that they’re already coordinated for you.  When a fabric company releases a collection of fabric, it will consist of several different prints that have all been designed to coordinate with and complement each other.  The precut bundles will have all of the different designs packaged together, and you can rest easy knowing that they’re going to work great together in your quilt.  The picture below is a charm pack of the 1930s Revival collection by Boundless.

Another thing to think about when making fabric selection is prints versus solids.  A print is any fabric that has some sort of design on it.  Solids, obviously, will not have any designs printed on them.  That said, some solids might have a little texture depending on how they’re dyed, or they might have an ombré effect, which is where the color starts out very saturated at one end of the fabric and gradually lightens towards the other end of the fabric.  

When looking at prints, you’ll want to keep in mind which prints are high volume versus low volume.  These terms describe the density of the printed design on the fabric.  Using different volumes of prints will create different visual effects to the overall quilt design, so you want to keep that in mind when you’re thinking about what parts of your quilt design you want to stand out and what parts you want in the background.  A very common quilt design will use a variety of prints for the part of the quilt block that the designer wants to stand out. Then they will use neutral solids or very low-volume prints as background fabrics.    

Everything at this point has been centered around the kind of cotton fabric you generally find at a quilt shop.  Once you’re ready to start getting really creative, feel free to start experimenting with other kinds of fabric such as silk, jersey knit, fleece, denim, or whatever you want to play with.  Just keep in mind that you will most likely have to make adjustments to the tools you use such as changing the type of needle for your sewing machine and/or specially preparing the fabric in order to make it work for a quilt.  

As an example, a really popular type of quilt is the T-shirt quilt.  People cut up old T-shirts that have sentimental meaning and stitch them together into quilt blocks.  It makes a really great gift, and because it’s jersey knit, it’s super, super comfy. However, if you’re using your normal sewing machine, jersey knit needs to be prepped with fusible interfacing before you start piecing it together.  There are TONS of tutorials online about how to make T-shirt quilts, so you should check them out if that interests you.  

That concludes my very basic introduction to fabric selection.  If you’re someone who has difficulty with colors, please stay tuned for my VERY BASIC color theory blog post which will hopefully give you the confidence to start picking out fabrics that will always look amazing together.  Please let me know some of your favorite tips when it comes to fabric selection in the comment section below. And feel free to let us all know what your favorite prints and who your favorite designers are! Happy quilting!!