Thursday, March 19, 2015

Small Studies

I completed the two small studies that I made with Gwen. I love them! They are a sweet little sewn diary of the two days I spent with her. Each one records the techniques she shared with us.

Small Studies by Poppyprint

I began sewing on the first day by preparing tiny blocks and units of piecing that demonstrated Gwen's small study techniques. On the second day, I realized that I really had two compositions in progress; one with a predominantly grey background and one with a white background.  I decided to sew a few more units and complete two separate studies.  

Small Studies by Poppyprint

As per Gwen's 37 Sketches examples, they are bound with a single fold binding, cut at 1 1/4". I had a look at Kerry's tutorial since I haven't applied a single fold binding in ages. They are fiddly, but for a piece not much larger than a piece of paper, a double-fold is just too much edge.  I quilted them in about 15 minutes each, just with unplanned straight line/walking foot sewing wherever I felt like going. Now, that's liberating!

Here are the little technique sections (mostly all sewn with nothing wider than a 3/4" strip):

Small Studies by Poppyprint
inset skinny strips

Small Studies by Poppyprint
wonky spikes

Small Studies by Poppyprint
pieced inset skinny strip

Small Studies by Poppyprint
tiny log cabin

On both pieces you can see the wonky/improv equilateral triangles (which take some concentration!) and on the bottom right side of the grey piece you'll see inset tiny squares that Gwen likes, too.  All of the fabric is the new shot-with-white Scandinavia line from Oakshott.  I'm so happy I brought my little fat quarter stack along to the workshops. The limited palette allowed me to forget about having to choose the right colours and just focus on the process.  Plus, I was able to create two small but beautiful quilts with tiny pieces of very precious fabric.

Modern Quilt Guild members: RUN, don't walk, when the sign ups open for Gwen's QuiltCon 2015 workshops in Pasadena!! You'll not experience a more uplifting, generous, kind and experienced quilting teacher. Pinky swear.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Paper Piece Your Home!

Just popping in to let you know that my friend Penny (who, after "knowing" her for over 5 years, I was finally able to meet in person at QuiltCon. Yay!) is celebrating the release of her gorgeous new book with a blog hop.  There are a whole whack of us bloggers all set up to make each of the incredible paper-pieced blocks from her book The Paper-Pieced Home. Something I already love about the book is that all of the foundation patterns come on an included DVD, so there's no destroying your book while you try to smush it flat on a photocopier/scanner!

I told Penny I don't foundation paper piece anything for just anyone! I'm going to try my had at the hilarious, yet sophisticated clawfoot tub, reminiscent of the one in the first house B and bought together.  Hilarious, because it is just about the last thing on earth I thought I'd ever paper-piece! It just goes to show you that a determined designer can make a pattern for anything (a frying egg in a cast iron pan! a sleeveless dress! a rotary phone!). You'll see just how talented Penny is if you follow along on this tour. Also, there are lots of books to be won so be sure to check out all the stops listed below.
Here's the schedule: 

3/16       McCall’s Quilting / Sewing Machine Block
3/17       Love of Quilting / Review
3/17       Sandi Sawa Hazlewood  of Crafty Planner / Watering Can Block
3/18       Quilty Pleasure (Quiltmaker blog) / Review
3/18       Imagine Gnats / Rotary Phone Block
3/20       Verykerryberry / Lion Block
3/21       Artisania / Cast-Iron Skillet Block
3/23       Where the Orchids Grow / Lamp Block
3/24       Katie Blakesley of Swim Bike Quilt / Layer Cake Block
3/24       House on Hill Road / Oven Mitt Block
3/24       Lee Heinrich of Freshly Pieced / BBQ Grill Block
3/26       Pink Penguin / Allie-Gator Block
3/26       A Happy Stitch / Giraffe Block
3/27       Bijou Lovely / Jar Block
3/27       Two Little Banshees / Saucepan Block
3/27       Charise Creates / Espresso Mug Block
3/30       Karen Lewis Textiles / Couch Block
3/31       Poppyprint / Clawfoot Tub Block
3/31       One Shabby Chick / Stack of Books Block
3/31       During Quiet Time / Sleeveless Dress Block

4/06       Pat Sloan The Voice of Quilting / Author Podcast Interview

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Quilting with Gwen

Do you have a quilting idol? I do. Her name is Gwen Marston. When I first took the book Liberated Quiltmaking (first published in 1997, but re-issued twice since then) out of my guild library about 10 years ago, I was immediately enthralled by the photographs and technique illustrations. Her work was unlike any I'd ever seen.  There was a folk art/Amish/Gees Bend charm to her quilts that captivated me.  I admired each photograph and hoped that one day I would have the technical confidence to try my hand at such a different style of quilting.

Quilting with Gwen Marston
Quilts and hand quilting by Gwen  Marston

In my opinion, Gwen, and possibly a few others like her, paved the way for so much of the modern quilt making movement that is steam rolling through the quilt world and internet today. Solids? Stitch and flip corners? Slice and insert strips? Wonky strip borders? Improv triangles? Wonky stars? Alternate grid patterns? Liberated medallions? She was doing it all in the late 90's.  Every one of her many books is an inspiration and an illustrated guide to her quilt making journey from folk art quilts to improvisational masterpieces.  I cannot recommend every one of them enough.  Liberated Medallion Quilts and 37 Sketches are my two favs.  Minimal Quiltmaking is also a visual treat.

I was sad to learn Gwen had given up her Beaver Island, MI week-long quilting retreats two years ago as it had been my hope to attend one at some point.  Occasionally I would hear about her teaching workshops in the Seattle area but the timing never seemed to work out for me. Finally, this past weekend, I got to spend two days with Gwen. Two of the best days of my quilting quest to date.

Gwen Marston, March 2015
A portion of Gwen's 37 Sketches exhibit

The first day workshop was called Small Studies and was based on Gwen's 37 Sketches work. She brought about 2/3 of her sketch quilts with her for us to admire and taught us some of her working small techniques. We spent the better part of a day sewing with nothing larger than 3/4" to 2 1/4" strips. I never work that small!  She demonstrated her techniques for achieving wavy, skinny inset strips, impossibly skinny/pointy spikes, inset tiny squares and improv equilateral triangles.  When she pieces 1/4" finished checkerboards, they are not strip-pieced and cross-cut. Oh no. Gwen keeps 3/4" squares in "a beautiful antique Spode dish" beside her Featherweight (all of her quilts are sewn on a Featherweight and hand-quilted) because they look so pretty and they are so fun to sew together.  Seriously, I could have hugged her about 10 times that day.

Quilting with Gwen Marston
Gwen talks about her various binding techniques. These quilts are finished in the style she learned from the Mennonite women. The finished edge is about 1/2" wide. Two opposite sides are bound first, then the other sides are bound and raw edges tucked under at the corners.

Quilting with Gwen Marston
"I had to be brave when I made this one [indicating the center block] - this is not the most exciting block, but the triangles in that radical colour combination? And those red circles?...I didn't know how those were going to work out!"

Quilting with Gwen Marston
She quilts without marking "so that the lines tell their own story...and isn't that more interesting?"

I wish I had a tape recording of some of my favourite quotes from Gwen, like "save everything, it might come in handy later", or "cut from the straight of the goods", or "ask me if I care about show bindings".  Everyone was encouraged. Everyone felt their work was valid and progressing. She's a pro. I could not be more happy that she's been recognized by the Modern Quilt Guild and invited to be the Keynote Speaker at QuiltCon 2016 in Pasadena, CA.  Gwen's a completely relaxed and comfortable teacher; her years of experience and sharing are evident. She credits the Mennonite women that invited her in and taught her the power of sharing years ago when, as a young mother, she found herself in a new town without quilting friends.  She also spoke about her inspiring friends Jean Wells and Freddy Moran and the projects they have done together, sharing ideas while respecting each other's style and direction.

Quilting with Gwen Marston
Gwen and I with my two small studies on the design wall.

I made a point to try each of the piecing techniques Gwen had demonstrated and use them to create two small studies of my own. They'd represent a diary of sorts from my days with Gwen.  The second day was very special as there were only 10 of us sewing with Gwen in a private studio on a rural farm just south of the border.  I continued my work from the previous day and complete two small quilt tops not much larger than a piece of paper. I used the brand new Oakshott Scandinavia shot cottons that I had received from Oakshott recently. This is an unusual palette for me and I love the results. The subtlety of the fabrics let me focus more on technique and shape and removed the added mental energy of worrying about putting bolder colour combinations together.  That can come later!

Quilting with Gwen Marston
Quilt and hand quilting by Gwen Marston. Black thread! Why not?

Gwen Marston, March 2015
Small study & it's big sister, with Gwen 

I loved that Gwen shared two of her "big sister" quilts that evolved from her small studies. She is working only small these days, nothing larger than about 30-40" square. She hand quilts all of her work and says anything larger is just too cumbersome in her hoop. Plus, her house is stuffed with quilts and she finds it easier to travel with just one suitcase of quilts when she's teaching now.  She was very interested and asked a lot of questions about machine quilting  that "the moderns" are doing.  By the time she got about 10 sketches into her 37, she stopped quilting them entirely and just bound the small quilt sandwiches with a single fold binding.

Quilting with Gwen Marston
Gwen explains that this entire quilt was made from tossed scraps she salvaged from one of Beaver Island week long retreats.

I feel so incredibly lucky that I had these two days to learn so much from Gwen, to see her work in person and to finally hug my quilting idol. She's the bees knees. And she likes cows.

Quilting with Gwen Marston

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Light of May

Our bedroom window faces east.  In May, the sun rises early and a warm, pink light floods into our yellow bedroom. We've lived here for almost 15 years and yet there are no curtains covering our windows. Curtains that might allow us just a moment more to sleep. I love morning light and with the window right above our bed, I love that it feels like camping outdoors and waking to the warm sun.  Later in the evening, when the sun sets in the west and available light diminishes ever so slowly, the spring colours remain in the garden, but they gradually lose their clarity as the evening greys.  This quality of spring morning light/evening light is what I wanted to convey in my quilt

Light of May hanging at QuiltCon2015

The Modern Quilt Guild, with sponsors Michael Miller Fabrics, issued a quilting challenge for QuiltCon2015.   Interested MQG members received a F8 pack of Cotton Couture Spring pastel solids to work with. The rules stated you had to use ONLY Cotton Couture solids on the front of your quilt and the pastels had to be used in a recognizable amount. Any Michael Miller fabric could be used on the back of the quilt.

Light of May - Poppyprint

I rarely use pastel fabrics, let alone pastel solids! This was a real challenge.  I decided to play with my Improv Under the Influence piecing technique to create wonky border units similar to the ones I used here and here.  I also chose to limit myself to the fabrics in the F8 pack and only add grey.  After making some sketches in my notebook, I divided the pastels into warm and cool colours and set to work with the piecing.

Light of May - Poppyprint

It had been quite a while since I made mitred corners and this quilt has 16 of them (four in each corner). Getting a mitre just right is incredibly satisfying and I think the juxtaposition of the wonky strips with the very precise mitres adds interest to this design by creating sharp edges between the warm/cool borders.

The Cotton Couture solids have a very fine hand, the lightest colours are rather transparent and the fabric doesn't have a lot of body. For this reason I spray and pin-basted the quilt before I set to quilting the entire thing in a chevron pattern with straight lines 3/8" apart. I spent an entire guild sew day quilting for about 8 hours. I happily took the quilt off the machine and my heart sank. It was warped. It was SO warped. It was SO WARPED, I knew I wouldn't be able to block it flat no matter how much steam I applied.

Light of May - Poppyprint
In the middle of each side of the quilt, there was a 2 or 3" lump. Yikes.

I lay awake all night rather unhappy with myself. I felt compelled to enter this quilt in the show since I had accepted the fabric. I was proud of this very modern, original design that I felt expressed my interpretation of the light at the beginning and ending of a clear May day in Vancouver.   I knew I could not be proud of this quilt in it's current state.

So I ripped out all the quilting. It took an entire day. By 10:00 p.m., even B had a seam ripper in his hands and was helping me. Despite all of the blocking advice and encouragement I received on Instagram, I knew it could not be saved in it's current state. Doing things right is worth the effort sometimes.  Ultimately the quilt lost quite a bit of the outermost borders (thank goodness I'd attached a full 10" in the first place!) due to my first attempts at squaring up prior to ripping all the quilting out.

Light of May - Poppyprint
Here we go again: basting attempt #2

I peeled the quilt off the batting.  I steamed it, then fused a lightweight woven interfacing to the entire back of the quilt top to give it extra body and stability. I cut a fresh piece of batting, spray and pin-basted and stabilized all of the border seams with stitch in the ditch.  I repeated the same quilting pattern and sewed more slowly and with extra care not to stretch out the quilt.  It still warped, but only about a third as much as the first time. I was able to block it flat by pinning it to a carpeted floor, soaking it with water spray bottle and steaming flat. Phew.  You can still see where the quilting pulled the borders out in the middle of each side, giving them a curved appearance.

I like the binding.

Light of May - Poppyprint
Hanging at QuiltCon 2015 photo credit: Felicity Ronaghan

Actually, I love the quilt and I'm really happy I took the time to create a better finished piece.  I was thrilled when it was juried into QuiltCon2015. Once it was all over for the second time, I spent a lot of time putting a Juki straight stitch machine in and out of my cart.  I just don't think the skinny little built in IDT on my Pfaff QE 4.0 is big enough to match the power of the 5 feed dogs on that machine and create good results for straight line quilting on larger projects.  Le sigh.

Don't you just love how the learning never stops with quilting?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Chat With Pat. Yes, that Pat.

My week got off to a brilliant start yesterday afternoon by way of a chat with Pat Sloan on her American Patchwork and Quilting Magazine radio show!  In our email conversations leading up to my interview, Pat said our conversation should feel like two friends chatting over a cup of tea. It totally did! Now I am even more excited to meet her in Minneapolis at Spring Market.

Pat was so kind and immediately after my welcome she congratulated me on my QuiltCon ribbon. We ended up talking about Blackbird Fly for a bit (I could talk about that quilt all day!). We also covered the inspiration behind Make It, Take It and some of the projects in the book and spoke about my retreat business and the improv classes I'm teaching this year.

The interview is 12 minutes long. I listened to it later and was pleasantly surprised at how coherent I sound, actually. I was nervous as I waited for her call, but Pat's friendly style put me at ease right away once we got started.  If you want to have a listen, you'll find it at the top of the podcast listing on the right side of this page. Just click on the little arrow pointing to the right (that you see under my name) and it will start to play immediately (pardon the detailed instructions, but when your mom texts you and asks "What's a podcast?" I think it's safe to assume there may be a few others reading this who would appreciate the details).  If you don't hear anything, check to make sure your speaker is on.

Thanks again Pat! See you in May....

Friday, February 27, 2015

Oopsydaisy - Make It, Take It Corrections

After months of hard work and eyeball-stinging editing, the unthinkable has happened. Yup. There are a couple of little mistakes for the project pictured below that have come to light now that Make It, Take It is out in the world and people are making the projects (yay for making projects already!!). They aren't earth-shattering, but they may leave you scratching your head wondering why you have an extra piece of fabric.

Martingale - Make It, Take It (Print version + eBook bundle)
Big and Little Patchwork Tote 
designed by Ayumi Takahashi of Pink Penguin

If you have purchased a copy of the book, check out the Corrections page on the Martingale website to update your copy. If you have a digital copy of the book, when you log in and open your copy it will automatically update with the necessary corrections.

Sorry gang.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

I Went to QuiltCon2015...

...and all I got was this AMAZING ribbon!!!!!

All of the ribbons were handmade by Elizabeth Hartman and they were definitely coveted! She did a beauty job with them and I'm thrilled to have one.

Blackbird Fly QuiltCon winner
Photo credit: Stacey Murton, T-shirt that says "I touched a quilt and I liked it" by CatandVee

See that crazy, ridiculous grin? It was pretty hard to settle those cheeks down all weekend whenever anyone asked about Blackbird Fly or wanted a photograph with the quilt. I cannot tell you how incredible it felt to have this quilt recognized by the three talented judges, each of whom I admire (Carolyn Friedlander, Janine Vangool and Stevii Graves) .  This quilt is the very first one that I set out to make just for myself, after more than 10 years of quilting for others. It has a tremendous amount of meaning to me, so I loved it from the start.  
Winning first place in the Use of Negative Space category was a surprise for sure. The quilts were categorized by the judges, not the makers.  We simply entered them and they were placed into categories.  Here are a few things I learned through winning this prize:
  1. You do some of your the best work when you work for yourself, not to anyone else's specifications, rules or schedules. Caveat: I've done some of my favourite work for challenges.
  2. Aside from the top and bottom cream borders, all of the background surrounding the letters is negative space. I hadn't thought of that before. I chose the fabrics very deliberately so that the words would require thoughtful deciphering. One of the judges commented that the final design had an "effortless-ness" about it. I love that.
  3. When one door closes, another one opens. CQA did not jury this quilt into their national show last year because "I needed to go back and hone my quilting skills", "the fabrics chosen could have been higher contrast so that the quilt was easier to read" and "the design could have been placed better for maximum visual impact when the quilt was on a bed". Also, they wouldn't let me enter it into the Modern category because I'd used a pattern for the letter templates (Denyse Schmidt's Proverbial Quilt pattern). I'm so happy the MQG jury saw this quilt differently.
  4. Referring to #3 above, there is a definite need and relevance for the Modern Quilt Guild and QuiltCon. I used to resist, thinking that we should all just be quilters and our work didn't need labelling or definition based on a prescribed aesthetic. However after attending the show, I can honestly say I get it now.  Standing in the middle of that vast exhibition hall, looking to my left and right, every quilt I saw was a treat for my eyes. Every one.  That doesn't happen for me at traditional shows anymore. It isn't because I don't like or respect traditional quilting at all, I'm just ready for an update and a fresh approach.
Photo Credit: Felicity Ronaghan

Further evidence of non-stop grinning. This is Jim Kaldenberg, part owner of APQS , American Professional Quilting Systems, and sponsor of my generous prize. I was so happy that he was at the show and that I could thank him in person for his support of the MQG.

For a great overview post on the other prize-winning quilts from QuiltCon 2015, have a look here.

I'll just share one more sweet story with you now. My quilt was hanging directly across from the Steady Betty booth, where the proprietress' husband Gerald watched people looking at my quilt for 4 days. Gerald approached me on Saturday and wanted to tell me that he had so enjoyed watching people scan the quilt from left to right, working out the words and suddenly when the song dawned on them, breaking into a happy smile. Don't worry, I hugged him.  Then I hugged him again when he said he'd never in his life been to a show "quite like this one" and all he could think about was going home and making his second quilt.  I can't be sure, but I think Reginald is on the sunset side of 65 and he's definitely a good 'ole Texas boy. I hope I get to see him again at Spring Market.