Rooftop Water Towers

This quilt design was inspired by all of the rooftop water towers you’ll see as you perambulate around New York City. You might think the rooftop water tower is just some rotting old, unused piece of infrastructure from a bygone era, but after reading this article from 6sqft you’ll realize they’re just as much in use today as they were decades ago. As a result, the rooftop water tower has become a well-recognized symbol of NYC, appearing in graphic designs on hipster tees, screenprinted tea towels sold at outer borough flea markets, and stenciled graffiti walls throughout the city.

When I was working on my BK Snaps quilt, I wanted the blocks to represent different “snapshots” you would find around Brooklyn. Of course, I had to include a rooftop water tower. I used scraps to make my prototype block, and it was so cute I decided right then and there that I would design a whole quilt around that block at a later date.

A few months ago I finally started working on a bunch of different water tower blocks. I was determined to only use scraps for the blocks themselves and improv piece them so they were each unique. Once I made a few, I started thinking about the overall layout I would want for the quilt top and decided I wanted it to look like a gallery wall of “framed photos” of rooftop water towers. So I framed each block with matching solid strips of fabric and kept making blocks in different shapes and sizes until I was satisfied with the layout.

As I was piecing the quilt top, I began thinking about the overall quilt design. Because the blocks are scrappy and cutesy, I wanted the quilting to contrast — maybe something a little more graphic and urban. I decided to fill the white background sashing with various triangular shapes and sharp-angled polygons filled in with very dense matchstick quilting. Then every once in a while, I would break that up with a more open grid-like quilting design. I find the overall effect to have a graffiti-like quality, which I think is appropriate for the subject matter.

Because the majority of the quilting is very dense, I decided to keep the quilting inside the blocks very simple. I stitched in the ditch around each water tower and then quilted easy wavy lines in the “air” around each tower. I ultimately decided to not quilt inside the actual frames at all because I wanted a noticeable break between the dense quilting of the sashing and the very low-volume quilting of the water towers. (A distinction you might notice more on the back of the quilt.)

My final design decision was using a striped binding to frame the entire “gallery wall.” I was fortunate enough to have this fabric on hand, and the colors of the stripes are varied enough that they seem to match whatever colors are near them. And the colors of the binding are light enough that they don’t take the eye away from the blocks, which should be the focus of the quilt.

Et voilà! That’s my Rooftop Water Towers quilt! It took me FOR-EV-AH to finish, but I’m so happy with how it turned out. I really love how it combines urban imagery with a traditional crafting style. Have you ever been inspired by your surroundings and created something as a result? I’d love to hear about it, so please post comments and questions below. Share your own crafting stories, please! Happy making, everyone!!

BMQ YouTube Series: Episode 6 – Rooftop Water Towers quilt

I just completed a new quilt, and this video takes you from the beginning to the end of the process. And what a process it was! Whew!! I’d love to hear about your own quilting and making process, so be sure to leave any questions or comments here or on my YouTube channel so we can keep the quilting conversation going. And please subscribe so you don’t miss out on any upcoming videos!

#BrooklynConnectedQAL – Fabric Selection

I hope you’ve decided to join our virtual quilt-along, hosted by the Brooklyn Quilters’ Guild ! This video is all about fabric selection. What a great opportunity to go through your stash and start using some of those beautiful fabrics you’ve been collecting! Be sure to post pics on Instagram and Facebook and use the hashtag #BrooklynConnectedQAL. And follow that hashtag so you can see everyone else’s posts. Find the written pattern instructions on Barbara Danzi’s blog. Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel so you don’t miss any of my upcoming demos. And please leave questions and comments and advice in the Comments section. This is all about staying connected as a community even if we’re all self-quarantining right now.

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!!