Friday, April 29, 2011

Stage Three: Templates (for patchwork)

Ok. So, templates are not unique to me. There are a lot of ways of doing templates, and my way is not the best way, I can promise you that. It’s my way, though, and I’m pretty stubborn about sticking to what works for me, even if it’s not efficient.

Here’s how it works: When I have the blocks decided on and the full model drawn up, I am ready to create templates. I have to draw out each block full size on graph paper, if I haven’t already done so. I draw in any additional lines needed to make sure I can put the blocks together easily…for instance, if I have an odd shaped piece and would need to “piece in” a corner, sometimes I opt to split the piece up so I don’t have to sew around a corner, which is annoying. I do it on graph paper so I can make sure everything is reasonably square.

Then, I label each piece. I label them with an abbreviation of the block and the color needed (e.g. HT might be horse tail, and WB might be weed background). I label them also with a part of the block—a sub-block, if you will—and a number of the piece within the sub-block; usually the pieces should be assembled in number order. Thus 1A HB is the first piece needed of sub-block A for the horse’s background.

Confused? Here’s a picture to demonstrate:

Here we have two blocks with templates already cut up--a bird and a flower. The flower block has sub-blocks A and B. Actually, the bird does, too. You can also see gaps--when there are repeated pieces or pieces of the same size used in a block, I label them with any relevant parts numbers and letters. The triangles in the flower each have three codes because, for the larger, it forms part of the flower and two triangles of background, and for the smaller, two parts of the flower and one of the background.

Then, and this is the fun bit, I cut the block up. I try to make sure I have a reasonably clear surface to do this, and that there isn’t any breeze in the house. That could be dangerous. Then, I put the pieces where they’d belong in the block on the tabletop, so I know what I’m grabbing.

I use manila folders for my templates. Why? I don’t know. You need something reasonably sturdy, and I need something reasonably cheap and accessible, and easy to cut. I had some folders lying around the first time, and I’ve never looked back.

Also important: Good TV. This is one of the more tedious and mindless portions of my quilting process, and I have to have something on that will amuse me, but that I don’t necessarily need to look at every minute. Firefly and Pushing Daisies episodes are good choices.
Other tools: Ruler, mechanical pencil, drink, snacks, scissors.

I first measure and draw a dotted line a quarter of an inch away from one edge of the opened, flattened folder. A lot of people draw their templates regular size and then simply cut ¼ inch around the pieces. I don’t like to do this because a: my ¼ inch eye isn’t very consistent, and b: it doesn’t work with my cutting process. I then place one edge of each little graph paper piece on the dotted line, and draw a dotted line around the rest of the piece. I measure ¼ inch out from these dotted lines for all the other edges, and draw in the solid lines, using my trusty ruler. I now have a manila folder template for one piece, with a ¼ inch seam allowance drawn in. I measure off that piece and off other folder edges, always ¼ inch, and keep drawing in pieces until I have a whole block completed.

As I go, when I finish a part of a block, I tape it back together. Gradually the whole block will get taped together again. When I cut out the template pieces, I put them with the taped-together block and put them in a plastic sandwich or snack bag. I have a complete set of templates, with a guide for how to put the pieces together when they’ve been cut out of fabric. The above picture includes two sets of templates taken out of the bag and set up for cutting.

Best Part: I like the mindlessness of this work sometimes. It is a good feeling to do something that has a distinct start time and stop time—a to-do list item you can actually check off.
Worst Part: Pencil smears all over my hands. Also, this takes forever.
Stage Four: Cutting

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Stage Two: Fabric Choice

At left: Butterfly quilt, Clare. Below, where I mention using too many fabrics, this is an example. I felt like they all went together, but it was really too much. The quilt turned out fine, but it is kind of busy.

Admittedly, fabric choice happens at a couple of different stages. I often do a reconnaissance mission to the fabric store to see what’s there, and if there is any impulse of YES for a particular fabric, or if I get a sudden inspiration for a design. I also examine my own shelves of material very carefully for inspiration or to check off what I already have available.

I have a few favorites that I keep on hand, and a few lengths of oddball fabric I’m not sure how I’ll use, as well as smaller sections of fabric I’ve picked up along the way. One of my favorites is a light blue fabric with bluebirds all over it. I always have to keep some of that. There is also fabric that I am saving for myself, as in lengths that have been gifts that I’ve set aside for my own projects. (And, as it happens, my old special occasions fabric quilt, made for my college years in 1997, is falling apart, so I actually do need to start forming plans for my own quilt.)

It’s helpful if I already know colors for a baby’s room, or if I have some idea of what colors the parents like. I also think about what tastes generally the parents have; for example, one father friend enjoys gingham, so obviously his daughter needed to have gingham involved. Another father friend enjoys the Colorado Avalanche, so I had to involve those colors as well. These days, my friends’ parents usually know what’s coming, and they know I like at least some information, so they will let me know what their plans are for the nursery, or the gender of the baby.

At right: Ladies quilt, Cecilia. The background is one of my favorite greens, actually a striated green with a leaf print. The bright red, green, and brown were for vines and flowers. The others were for dresses of the ladies. Very neat and tidy!

I don’t usually allow myself actually to buy fabric until I have the design phase completed. Then it’s on! It’s a well known fact that I love the fabric store. On one of my recent visits, I planned to stay maybe an hour or two, and I ended up in there for something like four hours (though only some of that was quilt-fabric buying). I’m addicted to fabric, to the textures and colors, to the color exchanges and the feeling of absolute wealth. Wall to wall bolts of fabric, with any number of creation possibilities, creations that will last. It’s richness. I want to swim in it, like Scrooge McDuck in his money.

When I’m buying quilt fabric, I usually have a list. The list contains blocks and colors I need for the blocks. I have usually checked off whatever I already have fabric for. Sometimes I have a fabric already in mind, maybe one I’ve seen or used before. Other times I’m baffled.
Take orange, for example. For some reason, orange is uber difficult for me to find—unless I don’t need it (and yes, I now pick up good orange if I find it). So much orange quilt fabric is really neonish and really not easy to match with other colors. I’ve made some mistakes before with orange.

Blues and greens, on the other hand, are easy—I’ve found lots of blue and green that I love, and sometimes I have a hard time keeping myself from putting them in the basket. Light blues and greens make awesome background fabric, especially for outdoor scenes, as many of my pieces are.

At left: One of my favorite collections ever. This was for the fantasy counting quilt for my nephew, and the colors came together really well. I felt like I finally brought together my understanding of colors and what I wanted to do with them, and some of the choices are my favorites. The owls were made out of ivory/brown/black clockwork fabric. The lake was the bluebirds fabric. The fish was a great orange fabric. I had fabric for the stonework of the castle and for the ladies' patterned dresses. It all came out right!

No matter the color, I’ve learned over time that I need to check my fabrics against each other and limit the number of fabrics used together—and not to get something if it really doesn’t match. I have a tendency to make quilts too busy, or to pick things with not enough contrast. I’m still learning. I do know a little about color theory and various quilt principles as far as fabrics are concerned, but I don’t make “educated” quilts—I don’t make it a point to use that knowledge. I use what feels right.

I have quite a lot of pictures of this stage. For several quilts I’ve done a photograph of all the fabrics together, once I’ve tested out different combinations and determined more firmly what I will use for what. I’m not sure why I’ve recorded this, and I’ve never before examined my motivations. Maybe I just like to see the folds of fabric together? Maybe I like to record my choices, for better or worse? Maybe, since this is the first stage where there are really colorful elements, it where my photography starts? I don’t know.

Best Part: Faaaaabbrriiiiiiiic.
Worst Part: Not finding just the right fabric when really, really needed. Also, as mentioned, I have a problem with selecting busy colors/patterns, or having too many.
Next: Stage Three, Templates

At right: Current quilt project.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Stage One: Design, part three

Full Design

The full design stage happens partially in parallel with the last portions of modeling, but extends past that stage also. When I do a full design, I sit down with my block/picture models and some more graph paper, and usually a movie or TV shows or something, so I have a little distraction and someplace to refocus my eyes.

I usually, based on the blocks I’ve chosen, draw a large rectangle on the graph paper, assigning each little square one inch. Most of my quilts hover in the 36 X 48 region. This, too, is a little unusual. Crib mattresses are generally 26 X 48 or somewhere in that area. But I usually think of my quilts as being floor quilts for tummy time, so I just do what size I like, and I like 36ish X 48ish. Again, this depends on block size and whether I’m doing sashing or anything like that (meaning extra strips or blocks of non-patchworked fabric separating blocks).

Once I have a large rectangle, or part of the rectangle (sometimes leaving dimensions up in the air until I get the blocks worked in), I work on where the blocks will go, how many there will be, and what the best arrangement is, as well as deciding whether extra space is needed. For a block that is almost all patchworked for the featured part, extra space is helpful. For a block that is mostly background and a smaller shape, extra space is unnecessary. There is a lot of erasing in this stage, as I jigsaw puzzle the pieces in. Often it comes together right away. Just as often, it takes days and many moments of re-thinking what I’ve done, revising the design. Sometimes I just outline the blocks, especially if it’s a complicated quilt with many blocks, as with the circus quilt. Sometimes I’ll draw the design on each block in, as with the turtle quilt or the violet quilt. In any case, things sometimes have to move around a lot until everything fits in just so. A mechanical pencil is very crucial to this whole process—one with a good eraser. Sometimes, if a quilt is regular in its geometrics, I will do the main lines over in pen, since pencil tends to smear (especially the way I write).

I should note here that I use a mechanical pencil for just about everything in the quilting process—I used to get in trouble in elementary school for using a dull pencil, and of course as I just mentioned I tend to smear a lot when I write. In the design process, I do have to force myself to write lightly at first, so I can erase if needed. But when I’m more sure of my design, I go ahead and draw things in darkly, so that’s sort of a sign or measure of my certainty about what I’m doing. If I’ve jumped the gun, I won’t erase—I will start over with a new piece of graph paper.

I usually have some idea of what I want to do on the edge of the quilt at that point, so if I’m using a border or something special I’ll go ahead and draw that in, too. The circus quilt, for instance, has a scalloped edge, as does the pearl quilt. The lady quilt has a proper border, and the alphabet appliqué quilt has piping. It’s important to draw in something like a scallop, so you can make sure the border won’t overlap your design, and you can space in any background fabric needed.

As an additional note, my favorite graph paper right now has five squares/inch on one side and four squares/inch on the other. I generally need to use the five-square side for the full design, but I can work out other designs on the back, as if I’m doing a medallion block on the back or something. It’s also helpful for doing the individual blocks, depending on the dimensions and need for more subtle angles.

This is the design for my present project. I did birds on the top and violets on the bottom. This is for the second child of a particular family, and I did something I normally didn't do--I did a pattern that was similar to the one for the first child. The first quilt was fireflies and stars. The arrangement of the elements is similar, or at least inspired by the other. The quilts will be very different, but there will be a unity between them that I enjoy. Best Part: I love seeing the full design coming together. It is usually at this point that I feel all is right with the world…usually. Sometimes I’m still uncertain, but at least when this stage is finished I feel like I’ve really created something. It’s like an architect’s blueprints, I imagine. Someday I might frame them. Worst Part: When things don’t fit, I get antsy and obsessive. Next: Stage Two! Fabric Choice

Friday, April 01, 2011

Stage One: Design, part two

Modeling, aka Research

Once I have a theme down, and some idea of what I want to put in the quilt, I start figuring out what the pieces will be, and potential block sizes. If I’m doing appliqué, I have to start working on outlines. I might trace, or I might draw things out myself. Since most of what I do is patchwork, I have quite a few techniques to help me through the modeling process.

I usually make a list of possible things to put in the quilt. I then sort through old patterns I have used, to see if anything is right for the present quilt. For the medieval ladies quilt with flowers, I’d already copied down some flower patterns from a book, so I had some possibilities to look at. I also already had a full pattern prepared for the ladies, from a previous quilt.

I should back up a little here—I love looking through libraries' quilt books. At the BGSU library, there is a book with lots of established patterns in it, usually simple and classic ones. I’ve gotten a few blocks from there, and modified others. I’ll take a piece of graph paper and copy down the blocks I like, whether current-quilt-relevant or for future ideas. At the Wood County library, there are shelves and shelves of quilt books, both general and specific to themes. I looked through a sweet one recently, Quilts from Nature by Joan Colvin. It seriously revolutionized my life, not so much for the quilts I’ve made for others, but plans for projects I want to do for my own home. It has some genuinely awesome patterns in it, and some techniques for creating blocks I hadn’t really considered before. I also have used a great one with patterns of magical characters, called Spellbinding Quilts, by Maaike Bakker. The aforementioned lady pattern is a very simple modification of one from this book.

The patterns don’t always work for my needs, in fact, so I have to redesign them. I copy them down as is, but then I redraw them, again on graph paper, in a more convenient size or with alterations to make the piecing easier. If I am working with a very specific theme, I’ll look for books on that theme (as with the circus animals—a book with Noah’s Ark animals came in very handy, as did the Go Wild quilt books by Margaret Rolfe). There are thousands of quilt books in the world. I look for books that have fairly simple designs that match my skill level and techniques I prefer to use.

Eventually, I have a few sheets of graph paper with patterns all drawn up in their proper sizes.

Best Part: Satisfaction of finding just the right block, or the right set of blocks. If at some point I have thought, “This is perfect!” it’s been a good modeling session.

Worst Part: I can’t really think of one. This is one of my favorite steps. Sometimes I do get a little pang of concern for how much graph paper I’m using. It can also be kind of time-consuming.

Next: Full Design