Quilting 201: Preparing for FMQ

If you’ve read some of my past posts you already know how much I love free-motion quilting (FMQ). I find it not only visually stimulating but also completely freeing when I sit down at my sewing machine to finally stitch all of the layers of my quilt together. I pretty much FMQ all of my quilts these days with rare exceptions, and I love whenever I have the opportunity to FMQ a mini quilt because I’m able to quilt more meticulous designs without taking hours to finish like it would take on a larger quilt.

Continuing the trend that the co-presidents began in 2018, the Brooklyn Quilters Guild will have a President’s Challenge for our upcoming biennial quilt show in March of 2020. The prompt is a quote by Maya Angelou.

“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”

The quilts must measure 36″ x 36″ and incorporate six to seven of the colors of the rainbow in some way. Otherwise, they can be any style, pattern, etc. I decided to take this as an opportunity to go a little crazy with my FMQ by creating a quilt top that is mostly negative space which can be brimming with free-motion quilting.

The pieced portion of the quilt is quite small, so this is almost a whole-cloth quilt. Some of the quilters I follow suggest using a double layer of batting for whole-cloth quilts or any quilt where you want the quilting design to really pop. The general suggestion is a layer of 80/20 cotton batting and a layer of wool batting, so I’m going to give it a shot.

Once I pin baste my quilt sandwich, I start thinking about the thread color(s) I want to use. I’ve decided to extend the pieced design onto the negative space of the quilt, so I’ve picked thread colors that match each of the pieced stripes.

Before I start quilting any project, I like to plan out my quilting designs. I get out my sketchbook and start doodling. Not only does this help me clarify some ideas before putting thread to fabric, but it also starts getting those designs into my muscle memory.

Once I’m ready to actually start quilting, I set my machine up by installing my FMQ presser foot and bobbin case, lowering the feed dogs of my sewing machine, and placing a Supreme Slider mat over my needle plate. I want as little friction as possible when I’m sliding my quilt under the needle, and the Supreme Slider really helps me with that.

I also always make a tiny quilt sandwich out of scraps of my actual quilt to test the tension before I ever start quilting on the real one. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. ALWAYS TEST YOUR TENSION BEFORE STARTING ON YOUR REAL PROJECT!!!

And now I’m ready to start quilting. I can’t wait to see how this turns out! I’d love to hear any pointers you have to share when it comes to FMQ prep. Add them in the Comments section below so we can all benefit from each other’s experience. 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 — voilĂ ! — 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!!

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!!

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 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!

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!!