Monday, April 21, 2014

Unexpected Goodness

During Easter dinner, a phone call came in (went to voicemail).  It was from the president of AQS, informing me that I was receiving an award from the Paducah quilt show, which is set to open this week.  I know well enough that they only call when it is one of their higher awards.  I have no idea what it is, but any award is a good award.  If it truly is one of the top awards, I may not be bringing that little quilt home.  I made the decision last night to make an impromptu (and rather pricey) trip to Paducah today, for the week.  More good news to follow soon...

Monday, April 14, 2014

Springtime in the Geisha's Garden...MQX

The quilt I have been working on for the last year was finished last month, and went to it's first show this past week.  MQX is a fantastic machine quilting show, and will forever be regarded as my home show.  It is the first real show I ever entered, the first one I got a real quilting ribbon at, and the first Best of Show that truly matters.  The competition is always stiff, so to place is an honor.  Last year my Big Bertha surprised even me by winning the BOS, but I knew that wouldn't repeat itself this year.  There were too many great quilts entered.  What I did get, though, was nearly as good.  I took 4 awards, much to my surprise.  My Autumn's Surrender (the silk quilt I showed in Feb) won 1st in it's Solo category as well as the much coveted Best Frame Machine Quilting Award.  The latter award is honestly, the best to me since this is a machine quilting show.  It validates all of the neurotic, miniscule and seemingly foolish decisions I make to perfect my craft.  My Rainbow Nouveau quilt was re-entered at MQX again this year, as it didn't ribbon last year.  It got a 2nd place!  It just goes to show you that some years, some categories are harder or larger.  This year I entered it in the custom heirloom category, and it had only 10 entries (one of whom was bumped up to best of show, leaving another placement).  And, my 3rd 2014 show quilt, which I have yet to show the entire quilt, (below) "Springtime in the Geisha's Garden" took first in the large wall hanging category, another sweet award.  I really love this quilt and am thrilled to have all my hours of handwork and careful design decisions rewarded.

It measures just about 60" square (a hair smaller).

I started on the dahlia center last March.  This center medallion has a dark brown piping between the ivory and the print from the silk Radiance.  I have also put silk accents in other areas on the quilt.  This fabric is simply addictive, and I love working with it.  Here are a few links to the thought process I used during construction...Here and here
 The brown floral is a fabric that I had 1/2 yard of only, and got as a gift.  But I just loved it, and used it as the inspiration for all other fabrics I chose to use on the top.  I selected shades of green in the forest tones as well as the golder tones, because they both coordinated with the print.  When I was in Paducah last year, I found the material I used on the outermost border of this.  I had been hunting, and thought it was serendipitous to have found it there.  I also bought several of the paler pinks and added dogwood blooms to the flowers to represent my Paducah journey.  I was there too because one of my quilts had an honorable mention ribbon at the show.
I wish I could tell you how many leaves I appliqued, but I have lost track.  It is nearly 150.  Each also has embroidery on the veins from silk floss.  This is a little pricey, but it has such a pretty sheen.  Like the leaves, I have also forgotten how many tiny circles I hand appliqued down as well.  LOTS!...and many were silk.
 The ribbon is made from silk Radiance, and as my good luck would happen, the ivory silk matched the center background fabric very well.  Quilting on this silk is limited so as to only show the movement of the ribbon.  The silk is actually easy to quilt on, but I chose to keep it unquilted for effect.  As I was finishing up the hand stitching of the applique, I was also mentally designing the quilting.  I do tend to do these things hand in hand, as some details on the construction of the top affect how I may quilt it.  I knew I wanted this type of quilting of the outer border, and the scalloped edge, so I opted to applique another 30 1" circles on the quilt!  What good is crazy if it is not crazy squared!  I think that the effect is what I was aiming for -- to bring a little shimmer to the outer area of the quilt.

One thing I ran into with this quilt that I have not had before was the fact that the deep green stem (3/8" bias piece) seemed to pull in as I worked on the applique.  I was pretty disgusted with the top when the applique was all done because I was not certain it would ever be flat again.  I did something I have not done before - I blocked the top prior to quilting.  I carefully set pins to mark the center square on point, then wet the background and eased it all out smooth, setting pins around the outer area to hold it in place.  About 3 days later when it was dry and I was certain it would not revert to a C-cup, I removed it from my blocking board. It was a nice flat piece of cake to quilt!  This doesn't explain why it bled a little during the final blocking, but that is a story for another day!
It has about 150 hours or more in the quilting.  I used double batting, and silk thread on the entire quilt.  The quilting just sings to me; I couldn't be more pleased with the choices for patterns and designs.  I chose textures to hopefully help convey the Asian garden theme.
 The hardest areas to design quilting for are prints.  I think this ribbon design for the floral area beneath the suns came to me in a dream (the overlapping ribbon).
 Here's a look at the backside.  I added a little hand embroidery after it was finished.  Since some of the shows hang quilts to show the backs, I love to have a little something that is unexpected.  I also chose to do a line of hand stitching (embroidery) right where the binding meets the backing.
This quilt and two others of mine will be heading to HMQS in Salt Lake City next week.  If you happen to be going to that show, it sounds like there will be some great quilts there.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Current Debate: Modern vs Contemporary

I have found myself amidst a debate.  Is a quilt "modern" or is it "contemporary"?  You'll understand this discussion fully in a moment, but I will start this post with just that.

The dictionary gives these definitions.

"of or relating to the present or recent times, as opposed to the remote past"
synonyms: contemporary, present, current

"belonging to or occurring in the present"
synonyms: modern, current, present day

(and for a full comparison)
" existing in or as part of a tradition, long established"
synonyms: customary, time-honored, established, classic

I grew up in a household, where my mother was college-educated with a sickening love of art.  My passions of art were rather limited to just the bronze Degas ballerina statues and Monet, but she had bookshelves of art plate books, and knowledge of many painters.  I knew and heard terms like modern and contemporary to be used interchangeably.  So recently upon hearing that something made to be "modern" was really viewed as being more "contemporary", I immediately made that scrunched face look, and pondered how this could be.

When we look at discussions and photos of modern and contemporary home (both interior and exterior), they appear quite similar.  Question: Does it need to look space-age to really appear modern?  Or are the sleek lines, (ok, no Queen-Anne's styling here!) and color-block attempts at design enough?  Here is a website I perused.  Seriously, they debate the possible differences, where they apply to interior design, and it is a fine line at best.

Again, I am not trying to rock any boats or stir trouble -- just looking for insight and understanding.

The real test of this discussion, as I am sure you are gathering, relates to quilts....this one specifically.
I went to the Modern Quilt Guild's website to gain some insight.  Now, mind you, they are not the bosses of what is modern or what is not, but they founded this so-called modern quilt movement, and should be included in the discussion.  They say:
 "Modern quilts are primarily functional and inspired by modern design.  Modern quilters work in different styles and define modern quilting in different ways, but several characteristics often appear which may help identify a modern quilt. These include, but are not limited to: the use of bold colors and prints, high contrast and graphic areas of solid color, improvisational piecing, minimalism, expansive negative space, and alternate grid work. ".  
There are many interpretations of modern quilting out there - that is what makes it such a powerful movement in current day.  It is sweeping up younger (and older) quilters constantly because I feel that they are drawn in by it's simplicity, boldness, and polar-difference to the very traditional star-type blocks that our grandmothers would have used in quilting.  Anybody that quilts knows that many star blocks are hard to piece, and not always suited for beginner quilters.  Modern is, however, on account of it's simplicity.  Hence, many new quilters start with this.
Just as this defining text which I took from the MQG's website lists some key ideas that are often included in modern quilts, they also say that they are not limited to these alone.  If you read into the literature that is available on the web, of which there is a LOT to find, you will read many other design aesthetics that can appear in modern quilting.  Here are a few:
  • solids
  • free-piecing
  • asymmetry
  • unexpected (in use of color or design)
  • graphic
  • quilting that ignores the piecing, as in an overlay style
  • use of gridwork and geometric elements
Most importantly, and opposed to traditional, modern is a definition that each and every quilter is allowed to somewhat define for themselves.  Your modern is not identical to someone else's.  It's a personal journey we can take to deviate where we see fit.

I am a self-professed traditional quilter.  It is a style I gravitate towards, and do love and appreciate.  I adore the old blocks and stars that have been used in quilts for hundreds of years.  But by the same token, I also appreciate many of the current fabric trends, and like to see them in quilts.  As a hired quilter, I get to play on client quilts of all styles.  I have had my hand in many modern undertakings.  This was my turn to make my own modern creation.

Two months ago, I showed this quilt.   I discussed much of the rationale that I used when it was made in this post.  It is free-pieced.  Mind you it is curves (not that this is excluded!), and then I trimmed them to creating blocks of a similar size.   Each block is different.  I know that if I left my blocks all different sizes and somehow got them to fit together (as in this example) there might be less discussion about if this type background is modern or not.  But I did not.  This is MY Modern.  I feel that I am free to take bits and pieces of what is interpreted as modern and make MY quilt.  Notice I didn't take a lot of white fabric either. Some things just appear out of place.  Other aspects of modern that I find appealing which I used include the asymmetric borders.  I love the depth of the darker and much wider bottom border, juxtaposed by the narrower ones on the top and sides.   The applique is graphic.  While somewhat still of a realistic shape, it is done in a colorblock method, so each leaf is of 2 colors.  Two unexpected colors.  Blue.  I know that this is not the modern quilt typically in people's minds, with 4 Kona squares of different bold colors and a white background.  It is my interpretation.  To conclude this discussion, I want to lastly mention the quilting.  As a machine quilter, this is naturally an important area to me.  I knew when I was designing this quilt that it would have a more graphic style of quilting.  It is suited to the overlay style, rather than a traditional approach.  I chose to quilt sections with graphic parallel lines and on-point grids.  It is effective, and is opposite to what anybody would expect to be on a traditional quilt.  While I could have avoided the serpentine leafy-feathers that meander through the leaves, I made this different.  They are not round-lobe feathers, as traditionalists use.  They are in keeping with the design.  While they may not be what every modern quilter might stitch, Angela Walters has stated previously that even she finds feathers to be a highly effective method to convey movement, even on modern quilts.

All of this discussion and justification doesn't change anything.  My quilt shown above "Shenandoah Falling" went to MQX, and though it did judge well enough to earn a ribbon, it was disqualified, so it comes home with nothing.  It was deemed "too contemporary".  I thought the modern movement was about pushing boundaries in quilting, making modern become "your modern", adapting the characteristics of modern quilting that fit you and designing from there.

I am not sour about this, please don't misunderstand this post.  I earned top ribbons on all of my other quilts, and Shenandoah Falling has already earned a Best Wall Quilt at another show this winter.  I know it will show well at others too.  I don't need to nor want to stir issues with the judges either.  I respect them, like them, and know some.  When you chose to enter a show, you have to accept what they will give you for comments/scores even if you disagree. And I do.  I just want others to chime in.  Modern quilt categories are new to many quilt shows, and still need some refining in what is allowed to be accepted.   The allowed design aesthetic is somewhat vague.  It is not like other categories which specifically disallow such things like dis-similar color thread or metallic thread, or obviously over-the-top custom quilting. 

I merely wish to push this discussion into other quilters.  I have the quilt entered at several shows this year, and hope not to bring home a resume of DQ's.  The machine quilting on this piece is undeniably pushed well outside of any traditional box.  Why is it that if a quilter makes a quilt without huge spans of white or battle-ship gray fabric, it isn't really making a modern quilt?  

I love your comments on this.  I don't want modern to be limited by just the small, narrow view of modern that was started by Denyse Schmidt.  It is an evolving art, as art always has been.  Somehow, quilts such as mind ought to be accepted on the modern artistic merits I chose to include.  In a show where 67% of my score is based on the quilting, it wasn't allowed.   The editor of a modern quilting magazine has already stated that she'd put this quilt in her magazine, so where should the line be?

Thoughts?  I won't be offended.  I am looking for insight.  I realize that I have pushed the modern envelope somewhat, but this is My Modern.  It doesn't have to be your's.  That is the beauty and difference in Modern.  Traditionalists are not so lucky.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Baltimore Autumn

This is by far the most labor-intensive applique quilt I have ever seen and quilted!  It is a 70" square quilt, and has more leaves and berries than you can count.  It is all turned edge applique, with both batik and regular quilting cottons.  The quilt is absolutely lovely, and needed great quilting to accent it.  The only stipulation the client put on me is probably the one that I hate the most...No Feathers.  Oh my goodness, this quilt is totally and completely screaming for feathers.  What a killer!
It has a wool batting so that these appliques stay puffy.  Each and every applique and berry are ditch stitched with a Madiera Monolon clear thread, so as to give the shapes definition.  There is just no reason to go to the trouble of this much applique if you aren't going to outline stitch it.  That's my firm opinion, and anyone that tries to convince you otherwise is lazy.  Ditching is not for the faint at heart, but it is a necessity.  I used 430 yards of thread and 10 hours to ditch this quilt!
 The quilt leaves only a few places for placing good design elements.  The center medallion is one of them.  I wanted to frame it out somewhat to set it apart from the other applique blocks.  The cross-hatched squares that flank the center medallion tie nicely into the cross-hatching that is on the quilts outer border.  I tried to make this center a "scene of its own" so to speak.  A variety of different stitches in a coordinating SoFine thread just create a nice texture.  I have gotten back into using my SoFine on the last couple quilts -- I may have to get a few cones next week at MQX.  I actually haven't bought any of this 50wt thread in quite some time.
The birds and animals are all so cute and fall-like.  I just continued the McT-ish filler from the outer border into this area, but interspersed areas of pebbling just for visual interest.
The outer border is 9" wide, so I knew that from a design standpoint, it needed to be more than just one filler.  I chose the panels of curved crosshatching for the outermost areas, with the McT.  In near the narrow inner border, I quilted oak leaves.  I made a template from a cereal box, and traced it on with a marking pen. These fabrics appeared to have been prewashed (no bleed on my test), so I used the pens.  I also made a template for the scrolls.  Honestly, if left to my own devices, I would have put feathers here, but I had to design something else.  This area is densely filled with a meandering fill.  It makes the scrolls and leaves pop nicely.
 Here's another look at a corner.  Whoops...I just noticed where she forgot to applique the berries (doh!).

 As usual, heavily custom quilts have wonderful backs.  This one has all matching thread except the deep red bobbin I used on the narrow inner border.  It is really pretty.
That is my last quilt for a few days.  I quilted a queen edge-to-edge today, but won't probably get to another client quilt until April 14.  Next Wednesday, I am off to MQX for 4 days.  No point loading a client quilt just to have it sit on the frame a week!  I have a small feather piece I need to quilt for an article, and have started marking a silk whole-cloth.  That one is going to take me an eternity just to mark. So, have a good week....

Monday, March 31, 2014

Applique Quilt #1

Welcome to the first of two currently quilted applique quilts.  The second one is the same size, but has about twice the applique, if that even seems possible!  Just wait...

This quilt measures 71.5" square.  I wish I could tell you who designed it, or where to find the pattern, but I just don't know.  It could be original, but I kind of suspect it is a pattern.  It is beautifully turned edge applique.
This quilt has a single wool batt to give excellent relief to all of these appliques.  I don't like to really stitch on the appliques themselves unless they are quite large, because it tends to flatten them, but this quilt has plenty of puff.  I spent hours (and I do mean hours...something like 8 I believe) ditching around every applique, every blasted circle, and there are more than 100 of them too!  I used a clear Madiera monolon thread for the ditching.  The remainder of the quilting is done with an old standby - Superior So Fine.  I haven't done an entire quilt with SoFine in ages, since the advent/discovery of Glide thread and Omni and others that I frequently use.  The SoFine did a fantastic job.  50 wt is just fine enough for the background quilting to be dense but not thready.
A background like this one has just enough room to try to develop a design.  I like to use the straight line work paired with a swirlier filler.  It makes a nice juxtaposition.  They are enough different from eachother that each of the fills shows completely.  It is useless to place 2 fills beside eachother if they just blend away. 
 The border has a pretty and fairly wide undulating feather.  Just a nice classic look.
 I placed sections of curved cross-hatching inside of the center section (above) as well as the next border (below).  Again, it just gives enough contrast of design to keep the viewer's eye jumping around.
She's definitely not my favorite part of the quilt!!  There are few things I struggle with quilting, but faces are definitely one of them.
 One pretty corner...
The quilt has a very neutral backing so all the quilting is very evident.  I love this when the thread matches, but it always makes me nervous when there are dark green and red bobbins too!  It means that you have to be ultra-careful while quilting to be sure that the backtracks are as clean as possible.
 ...and the center square.  The texture is fantastic thanks to the wool.
I have a real Baltimore Album quilt loaded at the moment.  It is taking a way lotta hours to ditch, but I should be onto the fun quilting tomorrow.  I expect to finish it before I leave for MQX next Wed.

If you live within driving distance of Manchester, NH, consider coming to MQX next weekend (Thurs - Sat).  It is a great machine quilting show.  I have 4 quilts entered, but there are probably many, many more quilts better to see there!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Last week, after finishing the blue and white quilt I showed last post (and two other edge-to-edge quilts), I loaded a full custom applique quilt.  I quickly discovered that the timing of the machine had been severely messed up from an incident a couple weeks previous, when a needle fell out.  Oddly, I had no difficulty running the 40wt Glide and Omni that I used on these 3 quilts, but the machine couldn't make the stitch using thin monofilament.  I had initially planned to take the machine in for servicing next month on the week my kids are out of school, but fate had other plans.  The machine was dropped off on Thursday and wasn't back online at home until yesterday.  

Now, a forced vacation is not all  bad, except for the ever increasing quilts that need quilting!  I got a few days to finish up my massive pile of Quilt of Valor blocks.  In all, I made just under 300.  I had 24 donated from a local woman (thanks, Alida!), 112 were made by mom, two came from Wendy (owner of the blue and white quilt), and another 10 or so are expected from a blogging and former swapper Tami.   I will have right close to 450 blocks to deliver!!  Awesome job quilters....

I also got to dig my nose back into a small silk quilt I started 2 months ago.  I bought the hand-dyed Radiance fat quarters (all shades of green) in Houston.   They are so much prettier in person, and brighter too.  Last time I worked on this, all I finished was the center block, and the border with the HST's, then I discovered I miscut something, and didn't really have enough to do the last larger border.  Designing even a 40" quilt with only fat quarters is a challenge.  I ordered a half yard of a couple deeper greens (not the hand-dyes), and got right to the piecing.
Oddly (or not so if you know me), after one day of piecing, I only managed to get the inner diamond border pieced, and the units attached to make what is shown above.  Those Y-seams and matching the 8 corners on them were a wee challenging, but to my pleasant surprise, I made them all on the first try!
 The outer border is in pieces still.  The background of it is shown above.  This is just the greens.  There are some small stars in the brighter pink/blue shades that I am still working on that really do tie this whole thing together.  I'm itching to quilt this.  It is the perfect manageable size to get done quickly, and boy does the silk quilt up beautifully.  I am toying with doing a little trapunto (which a smart man would say I am a fool for), but that is a possibility.  I'll show more when it is finished :-)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Beautiful Blue & White

This is a lovely 94" blue and white double Irish chain.  When I get quilts such as this, with HUGE open squares (the blank square is like 13-14"), it becomes a daunting task of what to put in the square.  I know that this blank square is a large part of the overall look of the quilt, and must be quilted wisely to maximize the quilt's appearance. There are 24 blank blocks!
There are no borders on this quilt (not like you can really see that from my photo...I have nowhere to just lay the entire quilt out!).  It is just squares.  So, one of my first tasks in designing the quilting is to try to design faux borders into the quilting.  The other task is to create a visual focal, the other thing missing when all blocks are the same.  There absolutely must be a place for the eye to rest.

Below is what I did for the outer border.  That is the lower right hand corner.  My client commented that she likes feathers.  Heck, most people do, and this is a great quilt to use feathers on.  It's already delicate and soft; feathers only intensify that.  The edge has a wide meandering feather, and parallel 1/2" lines spanning out to the outer edge.  This will be very pretty as it hangs (it may be attending some shows) or lays on a bed.
One thing to note is that this quilt has just a single layer of Hobbs 80/20 batting.  It is a mid-weight, but is not very bulky.  The loft is limited, and is certainly not as puffy as some show quilts that I do which have a wool batt or even double battings.  The single layer is perfect for a bed, as well for a budget-minded quilt.  Not all quilts get the added $50 for the wool!  Had this been darker colors or heavier prints, I would have rallied for a fluffier batting to show off the quilting.  Light and whites tend to do just fine with single layers.
 The center has a large star, with plenty of feathers, inside and outside.
The twelve blank blocks around the center star are quilted with a lovely stencil design.  I bought several stencils last year and am slow to pull some of them out.  This actually fills a 12" block, but I placed it on point for a different look.  The arcs that surround the stencil are done with my curve-crosshatch ruler with minimal marking.  The addition of 1/4" channels inside and outside of the main 1/2" channel make the shape much more visible.  I then densely stippled inside the space to make the stencil shape pop.  You can see below how pretty and unique the quilt looks with these.  I really like it.
 I used two similar 40wt threads - Glide in ivory and a pale blue (for the swirl-McT filler) YLI polished poly.  They lend a soft sheen to the surface of the quilt, and a nice delicate look.   Lastly, all of the 9-patch blocks are CC'd with the absolutely tiniest of circles.  I used my 1-1/2" circle to stitch all of these 2" diameter circles.  Now, to find a box and get this sent off to NH, and get onto the next (sigh...!) custom quilt in the queue.