Archives for posts with tag: strip piecing

When we left off, I was in creative retreat so I could work in an unhurried, peaceful environment.

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Wawayanda Lake, NJ

I had no particular plans, just a lot of materials.

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Back, or “patch” pockets

After making perhaps 10 denim quilts over two years, I’ve amassed collections of parts.  I’m inspired by that which seems unusable, like buttons and zippers.  Buttons are a lot like coins: they’re weighty, pleasingly embellished, and in accumulation create a treasure chest effect.  Eventually having them around resulted in this

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I’ve also been accumulating inside front pockets

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and discovered that these not-quite half moon, not quite quarter-circle sections of denim on plain cotton make a nice composition on their own …

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as a four point star.

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With this inspiration, I found myself joining together as many as I could.  It was not especially easy or fun.  I wanted the watch pockets and rivets in there for texture and variation, but this upped the difficulty ante, so that needle heartbreak waited over every pass.  Modest Machine gamely grinded over the varying levels of fabric density like a mower over a dry rocky lawn.  Eventually a payoff came in visual impact as they multiplied.

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Since the jeans and pockets were different sizes, the resulting star squares went from small to large.  Dipping into my denim stash, I gave each a wide border, adding tonal variation with different fades.

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Staggered, the borders gave a sense of movement to the stars, but I chose to collapse them into an overall square.

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I wanted to use as much of the original source material as possible. Lots of lining remained because of the emphasis on denim thus far.  Usually the back of a quilt is a simple muslim or sheet … why not piece all the pocket scraps together?  It would be smooth sailing for my little machine; the fabric was all the same weight.

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So began another painstaking demonstration of the scrappiness of quilting

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Why discard a piece with printing or graphics for added interest …

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Compositionally this part was more fun than the stars on the front

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And when it reached the size of the front piece

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I wasn’t sure which I liked better … each can stand (or lie) on its own

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Completed July 27

If I had to classify it I’d call it a throw. When not thrown it folds up rather tidily. There is one more quilt I finished while on my peaceful retreat.  I’ll write about that next but will leave you with a summer sunset for now.

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July 26

 

 

 

 

Levi's backside = icon

I love denim.  I love it new and deeply saturated, I love it softly threadbare.  I love the gradations of blue.  Perhaps as a child of the 70s I just have jeans in my blood.

A recent Sunday found me and my quilts at Greenflea market on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, where an amiable man named Donald stopped to look at the quilts on the table and the fence.

The patchwork in the foreground is made from jeans, khaki's, canvas shorts, and upholstery samples

The patchwork on the table in the foreground is composed of jeans, khaki’s, canvas shorts, and upholstery samples

“If I gave you a bunch of jeans could you make me a quilt like that?” he asked.  This is music to Patwig’s ears.  I truly enjoy giving new form to clothes that would otherwise be discarded.  And I like the surprises and challenge in coaxing something from a given pile of cast-offs.  A few emails later I had these on my worktable.

7 pairs jeans and cut-offs and 14 legs

Seven pairs of jeans and cut-offs and 14 legs, most blue and black, with one pair of corduroys and one pair of white denim in the mix.  Donald wanted something that looked like the finished quilt he saw at Greenflea, but with a uniform border, for which he provided a yard-or-so of soft blue fabric.

One of the tricky bits about working with clothes, because of their shape and the need to cut unusable parts away, is that it’s not always clear how much is needed.

The legs were readily arranged

Donald wanted the finished quilt to be 75 x 80 inches

A quick arrangement of these cut legs helped me eyeball that there would be enough material to achieve the desired size.  So I paired up pockets from different pairs of jeans.

Probably because I started with a grid-ish structure, I alternated colors

Definitely needed to keep those iconic Levi’s tags

Some of the pocket areas were quite worn, so I repaired them with a bit of fabric underneath and a zig-zag stitch

This piece looks like it might have an ink stain in the rear right pocket.  Remember when we used to carry pens in our back pockets?

After much arranging and contemplating, I sewed until there were several rows, a beginning for the center of a queen bed.  I thought this a good time to check with Donald to see if I was barking up the right tree, so I emailed him a picture of what I had so far.

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He said it looked OK, but a bit boring, given the orderly grid.  He also wanted more emphasis on the blues and less on the orange and white, which made up the majority of the piece so far.

Dear Reader, I wanted to do better than OK and a bit boring, so with his blessing I cut it up again.  Then the project really opened up – it would be orderly no more …

I had been emphasizing the pockets, now I added it more plain blue legs, which offered their own variety in the form of worn knee areas

I cut to maximize blues

With so many of my "rows" ending with the top of the jeans or other particularly thick spots, I ended up sewing the rows onto backing pieces

I resewed pieces back at angles, joining sections with smaller strips of non-blues

I cut the original section out at angles, varying the row widths

The angles varied the row widths

I increased the length of the rows by adding in a couple of stripped sections

I increased some rows by adding two strip sections, including a button fly strip.

With a lot more movement in the mix, my focus turned to getting the size right.  The goal was 75 x 80, and the fabric Donald provided would yield a 6 inch border.  So I had to close the gap between the center above and the planned outer border.  Scrap time!

Cuffs often get frayed, which gave me a start on opening up those bottom seams. The worn areas resemble a sort of tie-dye pattern

Frayed cuffs start openings in the bottom seams.  Fully opening the hem triples the width of workable material and reveals a sort of tie-dye pattern

Strip borders are quick to compose and sew and, most dear to me, reduce waste.  Less goes in the garbage can

At this point there was fabric laying around everywhere

I laid the cut bits out until I was sure there was enough to go around

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A row at a time is sewn together, pinned to the center, then the whole piece is folded up, ready for Modest Machine

Joining pieces

Though I used needles sized for denim, Modest Machine still broke 3 teeth on this project

One row at a time sewn together, sewn to the center, and trimmed

After rows are sewn to the center and pressed, they are trimmed at the sides with the rotary cutter

Each time I lay the quilt down I risk losing it to this resident

Each time I put the quilt down on the floor I risked losing it to this household resident

The blue fabric Donald wanted for the border was the last part of the quiltop

Once all 4 strip rows were done it was time to add the blue border.  I think it frames the active center well

This part of quilt making is physical.  Down on the floor, crawling from side to side while straightening, smoothing, pinning, and folding, then up and down the hall to feed carefully through the machine, sticking myself with pins multiple times along the way, then back to the floor, unfolding and doing it all again.  Knees, back, ankles, wrists — all recruits to the effort.  No wonder whole groups of women made larger quilts before labor saving devices were available.

Only once the outer border is done is it time to turn the quiltop design into what we know as a quilt.  That starts with batting

Quiltop done, it's time to actually turn it into what we know as a quilt

Batting is a layer of pure cotton fill which gives a quilt its warmth

The batting is placed on the floor and smoothed out

On a flat surface, batting is placed down.  I have trimmed it to just over the size of this piece

The quiltop is placed on the batting, right side up, smoothed out, then a single layer of backing is added.  Sheets work well for this job.

The backing -- Wendy's sheet -- is the third layer

Who knows what calculus goes into such decisions, but luckily for me, this baby blue in very good condition was retired from its household bedmaking rotation, donated to me, and perfect for this quilt

As well as being physical, the end stage of the process features craft and precision.  It’s not especially fun.  I’m always concerned that I’ll seriously mess something up and all will be lost.

once pinned together, again I fold it up and bring it to Modest Machine.  For this I sewed around the perimeter twice.  Because of the smooth surfaces -- compared to the bumpy layers of denim -- it goes smoothly, with no broken needles

Now for the final two rounds around the perimeter joining all three layers

Once turned inside out, pressing the edge seams is necessary to establish the edge

Once turned inside out, pressing outer borders is necessary to establish the edges.  I do the first part on my ironing board then, you guessed it, back to the floor

Because of its size, ties will help keep the layers from shifting around.  I've got this old spool of needlepoint thread -- I think it was my mother's or grandmother's -- and it matches the corduroy perfectly

Simple ties will restrict shifting from the weight of the denim. This old spool of needlepoint thread — I think it was my mother’s or grandmother’s — matches the corduroy perfectly

As I go through my photos while writing this post, I realize I don’t have one overall picture of the finished quilt.  What I do have are these detail shots,  which is what I liked most working on this, the juxtapositions of various bits of old jeans.

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You made it to the end!  Hope you enjoyed this scroll through my quilt making process.  Please feel free to share/link/forward Patwig’s Blog with anyone you think may enjoy it.

I love the process of constructing a quilt.  It starts simply enough.  Sometimes two colors lodge in my mind and I want to explore the various ways they interact with each other.  Other times texture leads the way — a rough, loosely woven linen is warmed with worn faded denim.  And the path fabrics followed to my work table is always present in my mind:  scads of worn linen from a couch slipcover enthusiastically shredded by the family cats; a caution-cone-bright orange backing a graphic superhero print on boys’ boxers;  a lightweight denim workshirt that put me in mind of a shirt found in Florence years ago, long since disappeared.  Pulling all these pieces together is a reflection on the various parts of my life.

One of the warm oranges here is from curtains my mother made for her kitchen.  There’s also a pillow case given me by a friend’s mother when she and her husband moved out of their longtime family home.

Inspiration also comes from my environment … I’m always looking when wandering.  Lucky enough to go to Israel this summer, I admired this doorway in the Neve Tzedek neighborhood

Orange and blue have always created sparks for me, though they’re too bright and lively for me to feel comfortable wearing.  They work to good effect in this Nine Patch Patwig from a few posts back

And so I embark on a quilt in these colors, with my creative process guided by a wish to use materials on hand, to not waste.  On this occasion I turn to my stash of completed blocks, made from scraps after earlier projects

There are lots of blocks in my stash, but I choose these mostly for color, and partly for shape

The blocks need to be unified, so I surround them, frame-like, with a soft blue.  My blue stash offers a combination of scraps, from lightweight faded denim to old blue Oxford shirts

Narrow borders recall the small squares of the nine patch

Making these borders goes relatively quickly, if workmanlike.  When a border strip is big enough I sew it around the sides of the block, iron-pressing down the seams along the way

The underbelly of a quilt block

It’s hard to explain what I like about doing this, but I get utterly lost in it, much in the same way as I do gardening.  Times like these the work is its own reward, and I forget for a moment that there is as of yet no particular destination for the end result

Modest Machine never questions why I ask it to do so much, it just trundles along, well earning its next oiling

As the blocks are surrounded in blue a feeling takes shape which reminds me of those black and white “scan boxes” that seem to be everywhere these days — which googling just told me is  QR code

With the center composition done it’s time to think about how to border it.  There are many different ways to do borders on quilts but I often end up making simple strip borders.  It helps to lay out a bunch of fabrics to see what happens

A little orange really does go a long way

This is more rote work, though I have fun rifling through my orange fabric box for strips.  The border length is roughly determined by the size of scraps I’m finding — I prioritize using up what’s already cut and not hacking into another large piece of fabric.

And since there’s no end to light blue men’s dress shirts the heady orange is readily diluted

I often hand tie my quilts with yarn (again, as in the Nine Patch above), but this quilt turns out small enough at 55 x 59 that I just seal it with a machine stitched border around the outside.

And it’s done.

It’s inevitable that there will be scraps left over when a quilt is done, they’re the benched players on the sidelines when the buzzer sounds.  Wasted potential, because in my book, scraps an inch above standard seam allowance can excel in the right conditions.

So it was when Ellen came to pick up her quilt featuring her husbands’ Hermes ties.   We were completing our transaction on pretty upbeat terms – how lovely to have a happy client – until she saw the bagged scraps and the trace of a frown began to appear.  The goal had been to put ALL the fabric to use.  What could be done with these leftovers?  Then Ellen remembered  a little “study” I had made for her quilt

and suggested it for pillows — one for each of her four children, and one for her.  Eyeballing the scraps, I was sure there was enough for five, so we were in business.

After scoring polyester pillow inserts from P&S Fabrics in Chinatown (made in Massachusetts, BTW),

The triangles at left are the tie tips.

I spread out all the scraps.  Most were too small for use in the quilt, some were lining, and some were colors or hues that just didn’t show their best or add anything to the quilt as the design unfolded.   I ironed everything, added fusible backing where needed, and using the study above as a starting point, began to cut short bars to join into squares

I decided to use four sets of blocks on each pillow, sashed with the tie linings I couldn’t use the first time around

The bars of color echoed the coin stack pattern of the "mother quilt."

There were a few big pieces left

Hermes tie and a bit of Thai silk

which provided sashing around the inner block of four

I tried to get some Thai silk on every pillow, since it featured so prominently on the mother quilt

By this time the bits and pieces remaining really were not much more than that, so the outer border was literally “strip piecing.”

I sewed bits and pieces together until they were long enough for a border for each side of the pillows, 20 overall.

Ellen had provided a lovely blue queen-sized sheet for the back of the original quilt.  Enough was left to back the pillows.

The patchwork pillow front is 12 inches square. The back is two pieces of blue sheeting 12 inches wide by 7 or 8 inches, overlapping.

The pillow cover and backing are pinned, right sides facing together, and sewn all the way around the square three times.  The overlap in the backing creates a slit to slip the pillow in.

As I finished I stacked them up.

I’d been concerned that one or two might be “nicer,” stand out more somehow from the rest of the line-up …

But I think they ended up as a pretty strong team

*A soft cushion for your head or another part of your body, possibly featuring fabrics that remind you of a special person.

This summer was the longest break I’ve taken from quilt-making since I started.  Maybe it was the effort of producing a queen-sized piece.  Or maybe it was having my kids around for summer.  Whatever it was, at some point I thought I should make a quilt for my mother.  She said yes she would like that, and this project ensued.

She wanted yellows, greens and browns.  I gathered stuff from my stash and she gave me a bunch of old fabric from her attic, including what I recognized as curtains that had been in her kitchen long ago.  There was also fabric from seat cushions she made for the kitchen chairs.  It was fun to see this in its original color saturation — compared to the well-worn cushions which are still there.  Best of all, there was a very cheery and flowery yellow bedsheet, the sight of which caused me to bury my nose in its familiar smell.  I remember going to her room early in the morning when she was in bed reading before my brother woke up.  I’d climb in bed with her and we’d talk or read and play shadow puppets with the light from her bedside lamp.  My mother’s bed is her refuge.   And it was the secure station where she hunkered down to sleep and wait out six months of radiation and chemotherapy to vanquish a soft-tissue sarcoma.  She cares deeply about what she puts on her bed, so I have been privileged to make a quilt for it.

Her instructions on a white slip of scratch paper include her classic "Q."

The pattern inspiration for this quilt is one I’ve done several times, the so-called Chinese coin pattern.  Ignore the unmade bed and you can see the basic pattern:  stacks of narrow horizontal strips (coins) alternating with typically a solid color background.

If the bed's not made as soon as it's vacated, felines will take advantage of any remaining warm spots.

From a production standpoint, this pattern moves along readily.

I googled to discover the origins of the "Chinese coin" but didn't find anything I felt was sufficiently authoritative. It is also called "strip piecing."

Selecting fabrics and grouping them together is the fun part.  I end up using a far greater percentage from my own stash than from those my mother gave me, and  I realize these may be unconscious choices recalling her fabric history.  For instance, the deep blue/greens below are nearly the same color as a fabric she used to reupholster a living room chair —  a project she never did finish, though the chair remains with a slipcover.

The blue-green was the lining for a toddler-sized jacket. There are also old pillow-cover pieces here.

I also sew narrower but longer rows for an outer border.   This should stand out nicely against the brown dust ruffle on her bed.

My son's bedroom floor is my surface for laying, arranging and visualizing. I believe some quilters use an "idea wall" but my workroom does not offer enough space to stand back and view.

Once columns are done, a background color is needed to highlight and divide them.  This offers the perfect application of those former kitchen curtains.  It’s not a solid, but the pattern is small and neutral enough to work in.

The warm hue of the curtain material puts me in mind of acorn squash. Or maybe it's a fall breeze in the air.

I like making ready progress on a project, but the bigger it gets the harder it is to move around.   After the alternating columns of strips and solids are sewn together, the solid is added to cap the top and bottom.

Wide borders emphasize the colors. I think a very dark color, like black, would also work well here.

At some point I discover that I don’t have a big enough piece of something to use for batting (or fill), so I make a quick run up to City Quilter.  This is the first time I’ve purchased any supplies for this quilt — thus far I’ve managed with all found objects.  This satisfies the thrifty part of my soul. Now it’s time to make a backing.  Cue the cheery yellow floral that brought back so many memories:

Yellows always remind me of my mother.

Careful readers of Patwig’s Blog may remember that the next step is sewing all three layers together — quilt top, batting, and backing (right side down) — leaving a small opening to pull the whole thing inside out.  After pressing, it is “fit to be tied.”

I usually hand-tie my quilts. For this I use a needlepoint thread which perfectly matches the acorn squash color.

Nearly there.  A quick check of photo dates shows this commenced August 5 with fabric selection, and sewing starting September 10 and finishing September 22.  After a quick look over by the resident inspector, it’s done.

Don't worry about soiling: Seymour keeps his paws and pads scrupulously clean.

And here’s how it looks on a bed

Not a bad project for Modest Machine to limber up after the lay off.  And now I have officially queen and twin sized quilts under my belt.  I do take commissions, and if you’d like to know more, leave a comment and I’ll get back.  Caio for now!

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