Creating a Quilt Part 6: THE QUILTING!!!

The journey for this quilt is nearing its end, and in case you didn’t get it from the above title, this is probably my favorite part of the whole creating-a-quilt process. While many quilters find their joy piecing a beautiful top together (which I agree is super fun and fulfilling), I personally feel that coming up with and actually creating the quilting design is what elevates a beautiful quilt to a spectacular quilt.

When I’m creating a quilt, I start thinking about how I’m going to actually quilt it from the very beginning of the process, but I don’t really know what I’m going to do until I’ve completed piecing the top. Then I just stare at the top and think about how I want to quilt it sometimes for days. I’m one of those people who have to let things marinate in my brain for a while before I figure out what to do.

For this quilt, I decided pretty early on that I didn’t want the quilting design to distract from the 20 “snapshot” blocks, and instead I wanted the quilting to make them pop even more. To me, that means the quilting in the sashing needed to be an overall consistent pattern that could somewhat fade into the background. Because my blocks are all based on urban visuals of Brooklyn, I thought a brick wall quilting design would be perfect. The more I thought about it, the more I really liked the idea of making my blocks look like they are displayed on an exposed brick wall, which is a pretty desirable feature in many Brooklyn apartments.

Then I had to decide how I was going to quilt each of the blocks. They definitely needed some quilting just from a practical standpoint because I didn’t want them to be completely puffy, and the quilting would flatten them down a bit.

When you’re coming up with your own quilting designs, be sure to think about how you’re actually going to use the quilt and whether or not you will be washing it regularly. If your quilt is going to be regularly washed, you will want to make sure that it is quilted all over so that the batting inside the quilt doesn’t start to distort in between the top and back of the quilt. However, if you are just hanging the quilt on a wall and don’t plan on washing it, you can basically do whatever you want with the quilting.

Back to this quilt, I had to decide if I wanted to quilt each block to help the viewer figure out some of the more abstract blocks or if I wanted to keep it as basic as possible so that they were still very abstract. I decided on the latter. So I only quilted in what I considered to be the background of each block, allowing the foreground to slightly pop out.

If you’ve read some of my other posts, you’ll know that I am obsessed with free-motion quilting (FMQ), and that’s how I generally quilt all of my quilts even if I have a design that’s all straight lines such as the brick wall motif I’m using in the sashing of this quilt. I’ve tried using rulers, and I don’t like them. I’ve tried using a walking foot, which I still use for some of my quilts, though quite rarely, but ultimately I really prefer the freedom that FMQ gives me. I also really dig how my quilting designs end up looking like a doodle or drawing, which you can really see on the back of this quilt. As much as I am truly in awe of all of the free-motion quilters out there who do phenomenal work with rulers to create geometrically perfect quilt designs, my personal style is a little more free hand.

Now that the quilting is all finished, it’s time to square it up, bind it, and attach the hanging sleeve and label. I’ll cover all of that in my final post for this “Creating a Quilt” series. I’d love to hear about your own preferences for quilting designs. Do you quilt your own quilts, or do you always send them out to a professional? Do you ever think about how quilting can enhance the overall design of your quilt top? Share your stories with all of us, and let’s all grow together as craftspeople and artists! Happy Crafting!!!

Creating a Quilt: Part 5 – Backing and Basting a Quilt

To piece a backing or not to piece a backing? Many people don’t realize that Shakespeare’s original idea for Hamlet was about a young quilter being driven mad by the various design decisions one must make during the quilting process, but the queen ordered him to go in a different direction. Alas. But seriously, this is one of the many questions we must ask ourselves as we’re getting ready to put together our quilt sandwich.

I am always very impressed with the Instagram posts I see of quilts with beautifully pieced backings, while at the same time thinking, “That is an awful lot of work for something that will rarely be seen.” By the time I’ve put together the quilt top, I generally want to take as little time as possible putting everything together because I really want to get to the quilting. That means I usually opt for a simple whole cloth backing.

However, for this particular quilt, I had a bit of a dilemma. By the time I had finished piecing my quilt top, I still had a good amount of yardage left over of the pear fabric. I thought it would be fun to use that for the backing, so I went ahead and pinned my completed quilt top to my design wall and taped an outline around it so I could make sure I had enough fabric to use as the backing.

Surprise, surprise — it wasn’t quite enough fabric, which meant I either had to go out and buy more, or I could take my scraps and piece together a back. I opted for the fiscally responsible choice. My first idea was to make a super scrappy section of the backing, which would have been totally fun but was going to take way more time than I wanted to spend on it. Then I realized I had a nice long strip of the pear fabric that could be used as the centerpiece. I went ahead and surrounded that by some long strips of the gray and black I had left over, and — voilà! — I suddenly had a very cool-looking, contemporary quilt back to complement my very cool-looking, contemporary quilt top (I mean, very cool looking in my opinion at least).

Once the backing was complete, it was time to make the quilt sandwich. Just as a reminder, a quilt generally consists of the top and the backing with the batting in between. Because this quilt wasn’t terribly large, I was able to clear out a space on my apartment floor and tape the backing down. I put a safety pin in the very middle of the backing so that I could line up the batting and quilt top, ensuring everything was perfectly centered.

You may also notice that my batting looks a little wonky. That’s because I am a firm believer in using every scrap of batting I have before opening a new package. That means using the zigzag stitch on my sewing machine and “Frankenstein-ing” all my batting scraps together.

Once everything was laid out, I pin basted all three layers together. Pin basting is how I originally learned to baste, and it’s really my preferred method at this point. I am very reticent to use any sort of adhesive with any part of my quilting process, so I plan on sticking with pin basting until my body forces me to pick another way to keep my quilt sandwich together. By the way, for those of you who might not know, basting a quilt sandwich is how you keep all three layers together during the quilting process. If you didn’t baste the layers together, they would shift all over the place while you’re quilting them, and your end result would be quite a mess.

Now that everything is pin basted together, it’s time to start thinking about the overall quilting design, but I will save those ponderings for a later date. Going back to the original question at the top of this post, how do you feel about pieced backings? If you do piece your backings, is it for artistic reasons or is it because you don’t want to waste any fabric? I’d love to hear the stories about your own process, so please share them with all of us in the Comments section below! Happy crafting!

Creating a Quilt: Part 4 – Construction and Layout of Quilt Top

Come up with an idea – check! Make some prototypes and confirm that my idea is a good one – check! Decide on the color scheme – check! Now it’s time to start putting it all together! Yay!! While most of the steps of creating a quilt are exciting, this is where I really start to have fun. This is also the point in the process where I might deviate a little from some other makers because I prefer to fly by the seat of my pants a bit more than is comfortable for many people.

This particular quilt is very much improv based. The only parameters I set for myself were the finished size of each block and the color scheme. I did make prototype blocks for several of my designs, but I was getting very bored with that so I decided it was time to start in with the real fabric and just see what happens. I always get way more excited when I work with my real fabric and colors knowing that I’m actually creating the final quilt.

I started with the blocks I had already experimented with when I was making prototypes. And even though I had already worked on the designs in the prototype phase, some of my blocks still did not work the way I wanted, so that meant redesigning or scrapping the idea all together.

I did not have a set number of blocks in mind when I started thinking about putting this quilt together, but I did know I wanted it to be a wall hanging. And as someone who lives in an apartment with relatively small walls, that meant the quilt wasn’t going to be too big. As I made more and more blocks, I realized that my final number of blocks was most likely going to be 20. Once I had that number in mind, I suddenly felt like this whole thing was much more achievable.

After creating my 20 blocks, it was time to slap them up on the design wall and decide on the overall quilt layout. Because I had framed each of the blocks in the pear fabric, I already knew I wanted to have sashing in between all of the blocks to keep the bright pear color from overwhelming the overall quilt. (For those who don’t know what sashing is, think of it as the inner borders of a quilt that surround each block.) Once all of the blocks were on the design wall, I was able to rearrange them into an order that felt balanced and also start thinking about how wide I wanted the sashing to be in between each block.

Then I needed to decide what color I wanted to use for the sashing. I pretty quickly decided gray was the way to go, but I was starting to think the pear borders around each block were too strong. Did the blocks need another border of black around them? Then I remembered seeing a bunch of Instagram posts of quilt blocks with a shadow effect that I thought was super cool, and I decided that was going to work really well with this particular quilt.

Once I made those design decisions, I started cutting and piecing everything together. After I had pieced all of the blocks together with sashing, I decided the outer border needed to be a bit thicker and that I wanted a second border to frame the whole thing. But should I add another border of pear? I love the color so much, so maybe I should add just a bit more? Ultimately, I decided there was more than enough pear already, so I committed to a simple black border around the entire quilt. I felt like that was the best design choice to complete the overall graphic look I was trying to achieve.

The next steps will be deciding on my backing and making the quilt sandwich, so stay tuned for my next post about this quilt. I’d love to hear about your creation process. Do you like to fly by the seat of your pants? Or do you prefer having a pretty set design plan in mind before putting everything together? Please share your stories in the Comments section below so we can all learn from each other! Happy crafting!!

Improv Piecing: Oh, the Possibilities!

The first few quilts I made were all about learning how to follow a pattern, learning basic quilting techniques and blocks, and getting comfortable with using my sewing machine and tools. Then I bought a Craftsy class taught by Joe Cunningham a.k.a. Joe the Quilter. The class was called “Pattern-free Quiltmaking.” I suddenly realized I could just take pieces of fabric, sew them together, and make beautiful blocks without any plan! This was so exciting!

Those of you reading this who are more experienced quiltmakers will know that this is not a new concept. “Crazy quilts” have been around for a couple centuries, but I had no idea at the time. As I began experimenting on my own as well as doing a little online research, I realized just how much freedom improv piecing can give you. Also, what a great way to use your scraps! (The image below is NOT MY WORK.)

My first real attempt to create something completely through improv piecing was a wine bottle holder. I had a bunch of Christmas-themed fabric scraps that I didn’t want to just throw away, and I had a Secret Santa party coming up. So I just started sewing, cutting, sewing, cutting, over and over until I came up with enough fabric to create the bottle holder. I loved the process and I loved the result!

I then decided to try an approach that combined a bit of a plan with improv piecing. I selected three fat quarters that were different shades of the same hue, cut them into strips, pieced the strips together, and then started randomly cutting and sewing them all back together. I then squared them off until I had enough to create a queen-sized quilt. My favorite discovery during this process was that I could take all of the scraps and put those together into rainbow strips which I used as partial inner borders for the quilt. This is one of my very favorite creations and it is proudly displayed on our bed.

My latest discovery that amped up my improv piecing was from reading Victoria Findlay Wolfe’s book Modern Quilt Magic. One of the chapters is about the kind of improv piecing I’d already been doing, but then she goes into free-form curves. Gasp!! I could improv piece curves??!! This blew my mind and it has opened up a whole new slew of possibilities for my improv piecing game.

While I still like just sitting down and randomly picking out scraps and sewing them together for a “crazy quilt” type style, what I really enjoy doing is combining sketched out ideas with improv piecing to come up with truly unique blocks that will never be completely replicated. That’s what I’m working on right now with my current quilt. Sometimes the process is frustrating because the improv just doesn’t work out the way I want it to. But for the most part, I find myself so fulfilled by this process.

Have any of you tried any sort of improv piecing? I’d love to hear from you. I find it meditative, but maybe some of you find it frustrating? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below and happy crafting!!

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!!

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!

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