#BrooklynConnectedQAL – Cutting & Piecing

Welcome to the next video tutorial for our virtual quilt-along, hosted by the Brooklyn Quilters’ Guild ! In this video, I’m demonstrating cutting and piecing the individual blocks for the quilt top. I include demos for ruler-cut blocks as well as improv-pieced blocks. Because it’s such a long video, I’ve listed the demo timings in the description box on my YouTube channel so you can skip ahead to the sections you want to watch.

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. Also 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 as we’re staying home and social distancing.

My Christmas Tree Skirt

My Christmas tree is the most beautiful Christmas tree in the world. Many people disagree. They are wrong. I was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, which is the Glass City due to its history of glass manufacturing for the past several decades. Luckily, that means there are amazing glass artisans throughout the area, and the Toledo Museum of Art houses one of the most impressive glass collections in the world. Many years ago, my mom began gifting my siblings and me with a glass ornament each Christmas, so I have an AMAZING collection at this point and I am deeply in love with each and every one.

One of the most beautiful characteristics of glass ornaments is the way they interact with light. Because of this, I decided I wanted a tree that allowed the natural sunlight to fully shine through them during the day and the Christmas tree lights to cause the ornaments to twinkle at night, which meant I wasn’t interested in a traditional tree with pine needles that would block the light. After MUCH searching, I finally found the perfect tree — a simple birch-style tree with built-in lights at the tip of each branch. I truly love how my ornaments shine and sparkle hanging from this tree.

This is all a very long build-up to explain how I came about creating my Christmas tree skirt. One of the ornaments my mom gave us a few years ago was a fused-glass star, which I use as my tree topper. It’s super modern and colorful and awesome, and it inspired me to create an improv-pieced tree skirt using up some of the billions of scraps I’ve collected over the last few years of quilting.

Because I have a very non-traditional tree, I decided I wanted a very non-traditional skirt. I really love Justin Stafford’s Squareburst quilt, and I thought a square tree skirt would work really well with my tree. So I took some of the craft paper that’s been used as packaging and that I save for moments like this. I decided on the size and drew out the pattern. I then cut it all up to use as templates.

Then I had to go through all of my scraps and sort them by color. That was a process. Oy. However, it was necessary and made the piecing process so much easier. I wanted to use all of the colors that are on my tree, which is pretty much everything, so I decided on red, orange, yellow, chartreuse, green, blue, purple, and pink.

I set up my improv piecing station, consisting of my Martelli Round-About Cutting mat and Rotary Ergo cutter on one side of my sewing machine and my ironing board on the other. At that point, it was just a matter of sewing, pressing, and slicing, sewing, pressing, and slicing, sewing, pressing, and slicing, over and over again in each of the colorways until I had pieced enough scraps to fit with the triangular template.

The trickiest part of this tree skirt was binding the center hole. I have never sewn a curved binding before, so I needed to look up a few different YouTube tutorials to figure it out. Other than that, everything went together pretty quickly and easily, resulting in what I think is a pretty darn gorgeous Christmas tree skirt!

This will most likely be my last blog post of 2019 as I will be traveling to the Glass City in a couple of days to visit my family for the next couple of weeks. Happy holidays to all and have a very happy new year!!

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!!!

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!!

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!!