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!!

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!!

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