Time to take a break from my sewing and fill you in on my progress on that king-size bed quilt I talked about in my last post. As I mentioned then, once I had settled on this project I decided to just jump right in with only the most general plan for what it was going to look like. I thought I'd share some of the fits and starts of this "figure it out as you go" process. Perhaps some of you planners would like to give it a go and what I've learned can help you. I'll try to include any details that I think might be helpful to you.
It's definitely iterative: start forward several steps; check your progress; make corrections; move forward again for a while. I've tried to check my direction often enough that I didn't end up forced into a direction I didn't want to go.
My original plan was to create random-sized squares of my random-pieced blocks and fit them together however I could. I had a bunch of blocks already made, but needed lots more. I dug out all my scraps of "blue" fabric and kept piecing. One rule for selecting fabrics was that they either "read" primarily blue or picked up on colors in the other blue patterned fabrics. A second rule was that the fabrics had to have been used in some other project; I wasn't going to use previously uncut fabrics.
The point of the second rule was to use up scraps. The unintentional result was a trip down memory lane as I pieced the blocks. I dug to the bottom of my stash and came up with fabrics I hadn't seen in years. I began thinking about where the fabric came from, what it was for, and what happened to whatever I made with it. It added another level of joy to the process.
When I am doing this random piecing, I keep a pile of scraps of various sizes on my cutting board. I try to keep them sort of "organized" with the smallest ones nearest to me and larger ones toward the back. Obviously though it's mostly a jumble. I pile in more as the pile starts to go down. I start each block with one of the smallest pieces and begin building out around the edges, sort of long cabin style. I like to start with an odd shape or a triangle, rather than a square because I am going for an irregular look. I decide what to add on where based on what fits and looks good next to the fabrics already there. I try to add on the smallest piece I can to waste as little as possible. I use narrow seams, 3/8" to 1/4." Consistency on the width is not important in this method.
After each short seam, I trim the seam allowances if need be and press the seam--usually away from the center, This is definitely not a speedy process, but I like the rhythm of it. (Also, I figure I need the exercise of getting up, walking a few steps, and sitting down again; over and over and over--especially now.)
I think you can see just from this small bit that I use a WIDE variety of fabrics. They are almost all cottons, but there are a very few silks and a few unknowns. I learned early on that when you are cutting fabric up into smallish pieces, the pattern becomes almost irrelevant. The more patterns included, the more they blend together into something new. Then it becomes fun to look at the results closely to see the elements individually.
I keep adding to the sides, trying to keep the pattern as irregular as I can until I am getting close to the size that I want. When I am within 1-2" of the dimensions I want, I begin to figure out how to square it off. I line up one of the edges, usually the longest, with the 0 line on the bottom of my cutting board and widest point with the 0 line on the side. That shows me where and how much to add. I try to square up one side/corner at a time.
As I mentioned, my original plan had been to make enough random-sized pieces to cover the bed. I'd just fit them together as I could. After creating perhaps 10 squares, I decided I should check on my plans. I did another round of laying them out on the bed to see where I was in terms of how far along I was and how hard it might be to put them together. Lucky I did. I realized that putting together bunches of random-sized blocks would be really difficult. (L seams are not impossible, but they are definitely harder and I didn't want to have to do a whole bunch.) I also realized that the final size I'd planned on (based on a google search of quilt/bed dimensions) was larger than I needed.
So I took a step back and actually made a drawing of a layout that would work. I decided on 3 basic sizes for the width of my blocks. Most of the blocks would be square, but I needed a few rectangular blocks to fill in spaces at the bottom. Once I did that, I had a clear plan of how many squares I needed and how I'd put them together. Some of the blocks that I had already made were smaller than I needed, but it was easy to add on to bring them up to size. I also had a couple that were larger than I needed. Instead of just cutting them down to size, I cut them into quarters and used them as the centers of new blocks.
So I kept piecing, and piecing, and piecing, till I covered the bed. I laid them out once again rearranging them until I was pleased with how they went together. Then I pinned numbers to the upper right corner of each block to indicate the order for sewing them together.
I bought a big piece of black cotton batting and cut backing squares from the duvet cover I am replacing. Then I had to decide about quilting it. I had already decided on using the quilt-as-you-go method, thinking to do machine quilting. I don't have a long-arm machine and the object of this project was to keep me busy. So sending it out to be quilted was out of the question. But when I got close to actually starting, I had no idea what to do. I have basically no experience with machine quilting and I began to think that any machine stitching I'd do at that point would only detract.
I mentioned my dilemma over dinner one night and my husband suggested hand quilting. I'd been resisting that idea because machine quilting would be faster and hand-quilting is always my default. The suggestion did plant a seed that maybe going to my default is okay. It's not like I have a deadline for finishing, or any other pressing project to attend to. Then, when I picked up the first square and it was decision time, the answer was obvious. I took one look at the block and had a bunch of ideas for embroidery stitches that would coordinate with and enhance various patterns in the cloth. I pulled out 8 or 10 spools of Oliver Twist hand-dyed variegated threads and got to town. Here's the first one--the full block and a detail shot. In addition to traditional quilt stitches, I've got lazy dazy, chain , stem, straight, chicken, and herringbone stitches. May be more.
Just 23 more to go! I thought about just hand stitching every other one, but I had such fun with the first, I decided to just go all the way. It'll be done when it's done.
I've found a way to make my stay-at-home time productive and enjoyable. I hope you have too. Stay well.
Everything is weird these days. No one knows what "normal" is anymore. Not that I could say that I ever felt "normal" myself. I've been attempting to focus on the little things that I am grateful for. I am grateful that as of today my family, friends, and I still have our health and livelihoods. I am grateful for the healthcare workers, the grocery and other essential store workers, and all who are trying to help everyone get through this emergency situation.
I have been painting some more watercolor cards using a circle template as a starting place. I did this one based on some mandala drawings I do any moment I can find the time. I am grateful for the color of watercolors and I enjoy the technique of flooding a tiny area with water and then dropping in the colors to see how they flow.
Many of us also now have a new perspective on toilet paper. Trying to fit some humor in, I just finished my "Ode to Toilet Paper" watercolor card. I caught myself one day getting a bit too philosophical about toilet paper. I am grateful for the trees that make toilet paper possible, the workers that help to make toilet paper in factories, the people who transport the toilet paper to the stores, and the people who sell it to us!
I am grateful for having a new house with an amazing garden which I am slowly learning to take care of. I even enjoyed weeding this weekend! This little beauty showed up in our yard. It looks like it has been splattered with watercolor paint.
I am also grateful for the extra time to spend with my son Tyler. It is challenging to have him home while working at home, but it's amazing to see some of the things he makes out of Legos.
I wish you, your family, and friends health and gratitude for the little things.
(Ann's daughter, the one that hasn't written a blog post in ages...)
Mother & daughter, Ann Lee & Sonja Lee-Austin share their joys and struggles in their art and lives.