Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lots of Little Pieces

I'm taking a break from my crazy work schedule to piece a charity quilt and am wondering why I don't do this sort of thing more often. My usual mode of operation is to have about 8 million projects, all in various stages of completion and all going on at once, and in so doing I tend to lose sight of how much fun it is to just sit down and piece something simply because I want to piece it and not because it has to be pieced for this DVD or that class or this TV appearance. Whenever I do something like this, it reminds me of how important it is to just step back from my workaholic "I must not only succeed but also excel!" attitude and just breathe for a few minutes.

This quilt is being made as part of a double challenge. The original challenge is the HMQS Riley Blake Challenge. When you sign up for this project, you pay a little money and you get a nice big bundle of fabrics and a big piece of batting.

Your finished quilt must incorporate recognizable pieces of all of the challenge fabrics, and you must use the batting provided. If you wish, you may add up to four other fabrics, but that's it. The rest of the piece has to be made from the challenge fabrics. Finished quilts are the property of HMQS and are auctioned off at the show to raise money for this year's charity which just happens to be Quilts of Valor, one of my very favorite projects.

The double challenge came into the picture when I challenged my friends Carol Selepec (one of the pioneers of longarm quilting and the winner of the very first Excellence in Longarm Quilting award at Paducah) and Lisa Calle (amazingly talented quilter and owner of Stone House Quilting) to participate in the HMQS challenge with me. The three of us agreed that in addition to the rules of the HMQS challenge, we would have another rule; one of the four additional fabrics must be a certain color which I will reveal later. We could make whatever quilt we felt like making, in whatever size we wanted. We encouraged each other to try a new technique, to stretch ourselves and get out of our boxes and, most of all, to have fun. I absolutely LOVE doing challenges like this because I find that, when I'm doing this with friends, I feel safe and confident and empowered to step outside of my perceived limitations and try things I would not otherwise have tried. Of all of the projects I have worked on, it's the challenges with friends that have done the most to improve my skill as a quiltmaker.

On this project, I decided to try drafting a pattern, which has always seemed daunting to me. I also decided to use the opportunity of working with primarily black and white fabrics as a chance to increase my ability to manipulate light and dark color values in my quilts to create added drama. And last but not least I decided to experiment with using highly ontrasting thread while quilting to work on increasing my precision. On large quilts, these things would seem overwhelming to me, but this quilt is only going to be a large wallhanging/small throw, so how bad can it be, right?

I saw a photo of a quilt made using the old Chimney Swallows block, which dates back to Carrie Hall in 1882. Because I was unable to find a printed pattern for this old and obscure block I had to make my own. Jinny Beyer has a very small (less than one inch square) line drawing of this block in one of her books, so I started with that. Because the image was so tiny, I couldn't just blow it up to 8 inches because if I did so, the lines became huge and blurry and the pattern would have been completely inaccurate. So I started drawing. And I drew. And drew. And drew some more. And threw away most of my drawings because they weren't accurate enough. After going through a forest's worth of paper, I finally had an accurate rendering that I could work with.

Next, I printed that image out on a lightweight, transparent foundation paper. I don't enjoy paper piecing, but if you want accuracy, there's nothing like it and this block needs accuracy so I bit the bullet and started printing foundations.

Next, I cut the foundation patterns into pieces, turning each block into twelve segments. Here are the three segments for each quadrant of the block. One of the segments was only partially pieced in this pic, and that large open spot will be filled with white fabric. (I don't think I have ever used the word segment that many times in one paragraph in my entire life)

Next, I went to a quilting retreat with my quilty girlfriends. Our retreats always have a theme and the theme for this one was Princess Beatrice's Hat, which was inspired by the apparent intrauterine device which Bea wore on her head to the Royal Wedding last year. We all made hats that would have turned Bea green with envy, had she been there.

I set up my station and started to piece. Paper piecing goes so much faster when you have friends to laugh with.

Unfortunately, having friends to laugh with can lead to you not paying attention while piecing. This is what I looked like after realizing that I had incorrectly pieced a large number of segemts. At 30 stitches per inch.

After some swearing, a big glass of wine, the loving ridicule of my friends, and a lot of ripping, I finally had a block to show for all the trouble.

I spent the rest of the retreat (carefully!) piecing and then came home and set up my project in my cozy little sewing nook in the corner of my kitchen. Toby was very helpful.

Augie was helpful, too.

Oh, sorry, Augie. I didn't mean to make the flash go off right in your eyes.

There. That's better.

I am now finishing up the last of the segments for the interior of the quilt and will then start working on the scallopy border. I'll show you more pics when I get the blocks put together!


  1. That sounds like a great project on a number of levels....but then I LOVE foundation piecing! I think Augie wants to come to live with me.

  2. adorable helpers! and- we've all been almost that sick- but WE don't do it at 30 spi!

  3. Aaak! I love that block! I can't wait to see it all finished!