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!!

How Will It Turn Out?: My First (and probably last) Mystery Quilt

I was probably about nine months into my quilting journey before I heard the term “mystery quilt.” For those of you who don’t know, a mystery quilt is designed by a person or group, and the instructions for each quilt block are handed out to the participants at periodic intervals. The participants don’t know what the overall quilt is going to look like until they receive the final set of instructions telling them how to put all of the blocks together.

It’s a very fun concept, and it’s a way for people all over the world to share an experience together at the same time. Most mystery quilt challenges have a Facebook page or an Instagram hashtag that participants use to post progress photos, and you get to see the different color choices everyone made while you also guess about what the overall design is going to turn out to be.

I decided to sign up for the National Quilters Circle mystery quilt challenge in the fall of 2018. It was designed by Toby Lischko, and we received new instructions once a week for about nine or ten weeks. I signed up because I wanted to find out just how a mystery quilt worked, because I thought it would be a great way to use up some of my stash, and because this particular one was free. Yay!

Our first set of instructions told us that the quilt was going to be a medallion quilt, meaning you start with one large block in the middle and then piece a variety of borders around it for the rest of the quilt. I had never done a medallion quilt before, so I got excited about that. The instructions also gave us yardage amounts and a very general color guide — so many yards of a dark color, so many yards of a complementary light color, so many yards of a neutral, etc.

I decided right at the start that I was going to try to only use my stash if at all possible. The tricky part was that most of my stash consists of fat quarters and a few half-yard packs, so I wasn’t going to have enough of any one particular fabric to use it throughout the entire quilt. So that meant I was going to have to get really creative about the colors I used. On the one hand, I always love thinking outside the box, especially when it comes to color. On the other hand, by the time the quilt was finished, I definitely would have made some different color choices had I known how the blocks were going to end up being placed.

I really enjoyed the overall process of the mystery quilt challenge. This particular quilt is filled with stars and really forced me to get serious about keeping my points. I learned so many new techniques with all of these blocks.

However, the reason why I probably won’t do another mystery quilt challenge again is because I had a bit of an epiphany once I put the top together. This was something that had been simmering in my subconscious for a while, but it really hit home with this quilt. As much fun as I had putting the top together, the prospect of putting it all together as a quilt sandwich and quilting it did not excite me in the least because it wasn’t my design. I realized that at this point in my quilting journey, I only get true satisfaction from quilting when it’s my creation from beginning to end. Maybe that will change over the years, but for now it’s just the way it is.

Even though I made that realization and even though I dragged my feet a bit, there is a larger part of my personality that cannot keep a project unfinished. So I did eventually put it all together and quilt it. This was by far the largest quilt I’ve ever made, and the fact that I was able to free-motion quilt it all on my little Janome DC2012 made me realize I could really do anything on this baby.

Once I finished quilting it, I kind of had no idea what I was going to do with it. I finally decided to gift it to my grandma for her 94th birthday. I’m hoping the bright colors will brighten up the upcoming gray days of winter. So while I have no intention of participating in a mystery challenge anytime soon, I am very happy I completed this one.

Have any of you participated in mystery challenges? What are your favorite kinds of quilt challenges? Do you prefer working from someone else’s design or creating something completely on your own? We all work differently and I’d love to hear your stories. Happy crafting!

Fun with FMQ!

I LOVE free-motion quilting — or FMQ, as the cool kids call it!! If you’ve scrolled through my quilt gallery, you’ve probably noticed that I pretty much free-motion quilt almost all of my quilts. I love how versatile and creative it allows me to be when creating the quilting design of my projects. In today’s post, I’m going to take you on a little journey through my FMQ history. Enjoy!

When I quilted my very first quilt, I used a walking foot and straight-line quilting. I did not enjoy the process. at. all. I had to keep turning the quilt over and over through my tiny, little machine, and by the time I was finished I didn’t think I would ever quilt again.

But while I was obsessively trying to find out as much about quilting as I could, I ran across this crazy thing called free-motion quilting. Suddenly I was eager to try my hand at it which meant making another quilt. Yay! I chose a 20-block sampler quilt designed by Amy Gibson for Craftsy, and I paired that with Leah Day’s free-motion quilting class which was specifically designed to help you quilt Amy Gibson’s sampler quilt.

Because I was brand new at FMQ, I decided to use the quilt-as-you-go method so I could just concentrate on one 10″ x 10″ block at a time. It only took a couple blocks to realize that FMQ was a game changer for me. The actual quilting process became my favorite part of making a quilt!

Once I discovered FMQ, there was no turning back. I started free-motion quilting all of my projects. Here are a few of my favorites. For “Beyond the Machine,” I quilted mostly straight lines, but I still used the free-motion quilting technique instead of a walking foot because I wanted the freedom of moving the quilt in any direction without turning the whole thing around.

I specifically designed “Verdant Promises” with eight all-white Ohio Star blocks so that I had tons of negative space to quilt in as well as natural borders to help contain the different designs.

The blocks for “Caged Cacophony” are one of six colors, so I decided to give each color a specific FMQ motif. Then I had fun with the borders.

“Urban Collective I” was my first foray into graffiti-style FMQ. The blocks are just quilted in the ditch, but the sashing and borders are filled with quilting. I love the contrast of modern quilting with the traditional blocks.

This next quilt is just a solid fat quarter that I used for practice. I started with a specific design idea for the center, but then I just let the quilting take me where it wanted to go. This was my first whole cloth experience, albeit a very small whole cloth. I hope to do a wall-sized whole cloth quilt someday.

Because “Baby’s First Chevron” has such a modern look, I wanted the quilting to maintain that feel. So instead of filling up all of that negative space with tons of FMQ motifs, I simply used straight lines to extend the chevron pattern throughout the quilt but in different directions that keep the eye moving. Even though these are straight lines, I still used the FMQ presser foot and technique because a walking foot would have been too cumbersome with so many changes in direction.

“Greener Pastures” shows my basic FMQ design approach when I don’t have anything specific in mind. I try to decide if I want the design to be more geometric with sharp, straight lines and angles or something more organic with curves. I decided to alternate between the two for the different strips in this Fence Rail quilt.

My most recent FMQ project was “We Only Got One, Folks,” where each of the inset circles represents an important aspect of conservation — earth/plants, water, air, and endangered species. I chose FMQ motifs within the circles to enhance the individual designs. Then I “wrote” in cursive around each of the circles, using words and phrases representing each of the conservation aspects, something that would be impossible with a walking foot.

I really love how FMQ gives me so much freedom when it comes to the quilt design of all of my projects. I can choose to do simple straight lines if I really want the quilt top pattern to stand out. Or I can go crazy with the quilting if that’s the wow factor I’m looking for. Do any of you free-motion quilt? Do you love it as much as I do? If you don’t FMQ yet, what are you waiting for? I bet you’ll fall in love with it as deeply as I have once you give it a chance. Let me know what you think, and happy crafting!!

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!!

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: Resources

When I started my quilting journey back in March of 2017, I did what I always do whenever I have no idea where to start.  I Googled. I quickly found Craftsy.com (now mybluprint.com), and saw what a rich resource of all things crafting it was. Because I’m still somewhat new to the quilting world, I still use the Internet all the time to find out more about techniques and patterns, to shop, and just to get inspiration.  In this post, I’ve listed a bunch of resources that I use on a regular basis. I’m sure this list will continue to grow over the years, and I welcome any input you would like to see added. I’m always eager to learn as much as I can about all things quilting!

Quilting/sewing resources

YouTube — Go to youtube.com and search for the names listed below.  If you like the videos, be sure to click on the thumbs up icon and also Subscribe so you don’t miss out on any upcoming videos.  

Missouri Star Quilt Co. — Jenny Doan is an inspiration both as a quilter and a businesswoman.  She and her family have built a true quilting empire in Hamilton, Missouri, and I love how she is able to come up with easier ways to create traditional quilt blocks.  If you like working with precuts, this is definitely the channel for you!

Midnight Quilt Show — Angela Walters is the free-motion quilting queen!  She also has a great sense of humor, and I love her quilting philosophy of how finished is better than perfect.  I particularly like these videos because they’re short and very well produced.

Man Sewing — Rob Appell has A LOT of energy and enthusiasm for all things sewing, including quilts.  He gives great advice and offers a large range of different sewing techniques and projects.

Mr. Domestic — Mathew Boudreaux has an infectious joy that comes through in all of his video tutorials.  He also has incredible technique. If you’re looking to hone your skills and get ready to show your stuff for juried shows, you should definitely check out his videos.  

Fat Quarter Shop — Kimberly Jolly has created an amazing business with Fat Quarter Shop.  Not only is she a great retailer, but she produces so many informative videos on a regular basis that run the gamut of all things sewing.  She also has block-of-the-month clubs and other sew-alongs that help you feel like you’re part of a big quilting family.

MADE Everyday — Dana Willard’s YouTube channel has tons of very highly produced sewing tutorials.  Only a handful are quilting related, but this is the first channel I go to whenever I need to learn a technique such as sewing piping around a pillow or inserting zippers or making a vinyl bag, etc., etc., etc.  

Social Media — Before I started quilting, I was not that much into social media.  I originally joined Instagram as a way to chart my quilting progress, but I quickly discovered the enormous amounts of inspiration that can be gained from following all the amazing quilters through social media.  It’s a great way to become part of a worldwide community without leaving your sewing room.

Pinterest — This is the place to go when you just want to scroll through pretty pictures of whatever you’re interested in.  You can create your own folders and save the pictures as a reference whenever you need inspiration.

Instagram — I’m totally an Instagram convert!! I love following the many awe-inspiring quilters all over the world and seeing what they are producing every day.  It gives me motivation to keep producing my own work so I can show off what I have to offer, too.

Facebook — Facebook is a little trickier when it comes to following quilters because you have to request to be their friend unless their account is set up so that you can follow them.  However, pages can be set up on Facebook which you can join and share photos, thoughts, and compliments about whatever your group is focused on. When I was working on a mystery quilt challenge through National Quilters Circle, I joined their Facebook page, and it was such a great way to chart my own progress along with everyone else’s.  

MeetUp — This is a great app when you’re looking to actually meet people in real life.  Gasp! Yes, people actually still want to hang out in real life together these days.  I haven’t actually used MeetUp for anything quilting related … YET … but I have used it for other purposes and it’s been great.  If you’re having trouble finding a local quilters guild or a group of like-minded craft enthusiasts, I highly suggest you start your own MeetUp group and see who wants to join you.  

Local quilt shop/sewing/craft store — I’ve traveled all over the country, and it seems like there’s a quilt shop just about everywhere I’ve gone.  Not only do the people who run these shops have great knowledge to share with you as a customer, they also offer classes and bring in professional quilters for trunk shows and lectures.  I have yet to go to a quilt shop where the staff hasn’t been incredibly friendly and generous with their time.

Local/national quilters guild — When I realized I was actually a quilter I decided I needed to meet other quilters.  At some point I heard the term “quilters guild” and did an online search to see if there were any in my area.  Sure enough, there were several. I went to a Brooklyn Quilters Guild meeting and immediately joined. I’ve been a member since the fall of 2017, and it’s been so wonderful being part of a quilting community.  Not only do you get to share your love of quilts with like-minded people, but most guilds do a lot of charity work and that is good for the soul.

Websites/blogs — Sometimes I don’t necessarily want to sit through a YouTube video to learn a simple technique, so I just do a quick Google search for blogs.  A lot of these blogs are also retail sites, so you can do some shopping while you’re browsing online. If there’s a blog that speaks to you in particular, you should subscribe to their newsletter so you stay up to date with their regular posts.  

Local colleges — A lot of the local colleges offer classes for non-enrolled students.  I took a basic sewing class at the Fashion Institute of Technology several years ago that helped me get over my fear of my sewing machine.  Learning from an actual live person and having a structured curriculum worked really well for me.

Books/magazines — Honestly, I don’t really buy many craft books or magazines these days.  I pretty much find everything I need online. But there are still lots of amazing books and magazines being published today, so if you’re someone who loves filling their shelves with crafting books to show off to your visiting friends and families, go out and get some.  What I like most about crafting books is that the authors usually mix technique with their own personal stories. There are also great coffee table books out there if you just want to look at high-quality photos of pretty, pretty quilts.

Non-sewing resources

If you’re looking to step up your quilting/crafting game and go beyond following someone else’s pattern, I suggest you start thinking like an artist.  I’ve had the fortune to sit in on a lot of art classes over the last several years, and I’ve seen how much students grow and evolve over their college years because of technique and theory classes as well as structured critique from their professors and peers.  I’ve listed a few things to consider if you want to think outside the box. It can be so helpful to let ideas and techniques from other artforms influence your own work.

Color theory — As a crafter, you probably have a natural sense of color theory, but learning the science behind color can really boost your crafting game.  One of my favorite aspects of color theory is the idea of transparency. There are some really great guidelines out there if you want to create the optical illusion of overlapping colors in your quilts.  

Worqx.com — This website has TONS of color theory information at your fingertips.  I highly recommend taking a glance through it.

Interaction of Color by Josef Albers is the go-to color theory book most art students have to read in college.  These color theory principles serve as the foundation for your work with color.

Art history — Looking at what artists have been doing over the millennia is so inspiring.  As a quilter, I’m not looking to mimic any artist or their work, but I love seeing what they do in their own medium and thinking about how I could maybe apply one or two elements into my own work.  

Other creative arts — There is inspiration to be found everywhere!  This is just a tiny list of areas that might spark an idea in your own process.  

  • Photography
  • Painting
  • Drawing/illustration
  • Commercial design
  • Architecture
  • Textiles and patterns

Quilting 101: What Is a Quilt?

This is the first of a series of posts I’m calling Quilting 101, where I’m going to walk you through the basics of quilting as well as introduce you to some vocabulary.  

Today’s post will start to answer:  What exactly is a quilt? At the most basic level, a quilt is made up of three layers, also known as the quilt sandwich. The front of the quilt is often called the quilt top.  Then you have the backing.  And in between you have the batting.  Those three layers are sewn together, and that is called the quilting.  

That said, I am by no means a quilting purist — I do not belong to the Quilt Police — and I truly believe the answer to “What is a quilt?” can be far more varied and nuanced.  In fact, I want to emphasize this one very important point. There are no hard and fast rules to any of this. Some of the most exciting pieces of fiber art I’ve seen were created by people who broke all of the so-called quilting rules and just went crazy with fabric and thread.  First and foremost, quilting is and should always be fun!

As I go through this introduction, keep in mind that everything in the quilting process that involves needle and thread can be done by hand, on a sewing machine, or a combination of both. Because I prefer using a sewing machine over hand sewing, most of my posts will be dealing with machine piecing and quilting.  But people have been creating beautiful quilts completely by hand for centuries, so if that’s what you prefer, go for it — see the last sentence of the previous paragraph, please.

The beginning of the quilting process usually starts with creating a design for the quilt top or choosing a premade design.  Once you’ve made that decision, it’s time to find the fabric — oh, the pretty, pretty fabrics!!

If you haven’t already done so, please find your local quilt shops and bask in the glory of their gorgeous merchandise.  I certainly buy plenty of fabrics online, but nothing beats seeing the colors and prints in person and actually feeling them before deciding what you want for your project. And even when I do buy fabrics online, I try to buy from quilt shops through Etsy versus big retailers like Joanne or Fabric.com.  That said, sometimes you want something very specific and you just have to buy it where you find it.

You can technically quilt with any kind of fabric — cotton, silk, denim, jersey knit, even leather! I mean, the list goes on and on, but most quilters use quilting cotton or a medium weight cotton because it’s the easiest to work with, so that’s what I would recommend to anyone just starting out.  

Quilting cottons come in a huge variety of prints and solids.  Printed fabrics will have a right side and a wrong side.  The right side is the side with the printed design on it.  The wrong side will look like a faded version of that design or not have the design on it at all.  Solids usually don’t have a right or wrong side — both sides are the same.

There are many ways to create the quilt top.  Most quilts use piecing methods or appliqué or a combination of both.  Piecing is when you put two pieces of fabric right sides together and sew a seam along the edge.  

Appliqué is when you sew a piece of fabric on top of another piece of fabric.  In other words, you apply a piece of fabric on top of another.  

Another way to create a quilt top is to use a panel.  Panels are large pieces of fabric with an image printed on them.  Depending on how the panel is printed, you can use it as a single piece for the top or you can cut it up and sew it back together to form a new design or you can add borders around it so that it becomes the centerpiece of your pieced top.  

You could also create a whole cloth quilt, which is simply a large piece of fabric, usually a solid, with no piecing or appliqué.  The purpose of a whole cloth quilt is to show off the quilting.

Most pieced and appliqué quilts will require you to cut up fabric and sew it together. There are a variety of tools to expedite the cutting process including self-healing cutting mats, rotary cutters, quilting rulers specifically designed for rotary cutters, and of course scissors.

If you are piecing a quilt top, you usually create a series of blocks and then sew the blocks together into bigger blocks and on and on. Most blocks are pieced using a quarter inch seam. You might also hear the term “scant quarter inch,” which means a seam that is just one or two thread widths shy of a true quarter inch.

Once you’ve pieced two pieces of fabric together, you need to press the seam with an iron.

The middle layer is the batting.  There are many kinds of batting made of many different fibers.   For the purposes of this post, just know that the batting is the fluffy stuff in the middle of the quilt, which is what makes the quilt all warm and cozy.  

The bottom layer is called the backing.  Just like the top, there are many ways to create the backing of a quilt, though most quilters use either a single piece of fabric or very large pieces of fabric sewn together rather than any sort of complicated piecing techniques.  Of course, some quilters are over achievers and love to make the back of their quilts just as visually interesting as the front of their quilts. Again, see my statement above about doing whatever the heck you want as long as you’re having fun.  

Once you’ve prepared the three layers of your quilt, you need to baste them together before you quilt them.  Basting is simply a no-nonsense way of putting layers together so they don’t move when you are ready to do more controlled sewing. At this point in my quilting journey, I pin baste all of my quilts using curved safety pins.  However, there are several methods for basting a quilt, and the method you choose is simply a matter of personal preference.  

Once your quilt is basted, it’s ready to be quilted.  A lot of quilters do not find any pleasure from the actual quilting process, so they pay someone else to quilt their tops for them.  However, it is totally possible to quilt any sized quilt on your domestic machine, so if the only reason you’ve avoided this step in the past is because you’re afraid to try, stop being afraid and just go for it! You might be surprised at how fulfilling you find this part of the process.  I certainly was!

There are a few different ways to quilt on your home machine.  A very popular and relatively fast way is to attach a walking foot and quilt straight lines from edge to edge.   

There’s also free-motion quilting, which is basically “doodling” with thread on your quilt.  

Of course you can always hand quilt the layers together.  

And finally, you could do any combination of these techniques or even come up with a new and creative way of securing the three layers of your quilt together!

Once the quilt has been quilted, it’s time to square it up, which eliminates all of the extra fabric on the edges of your quilt and gives you a clean, raw edge.  

After you’ve squared it up, it’s time to add the binding or facing, which are two different techniques to cover up the raw edges.  

And that’s it!  You just made a quilt!  (Or at least you imagined making one.)  Have you started your quilting journey yet?  If so, what is your favorite part of the process?  What’s your least favorite? Post your comments below and let’s share our joys and tribulations with the quilting community.  Happy quilting!