Process Post–Riley Blake/MQG Challenge, Part 1

Even if you’re working from a pattern, the quilt-making process involves a lot of decision making, beginning with fabric choices and ending with how best to quilt. And when you’re not working from a pattern? Oy vey.

I’m participating in my first quilt challenge this spring, the Riley Blake/Modern Quilt Guild 2017 Challenge. To be honest, I’m not sure I expected this much of a challenge. What I received in the mail was a bundle of fabrics from the Creative Rockstar line:

Darling, yes, but … a bit limited. There are only two fabrics here that read as dark and can offer any contrast. The rules allow for the use of fabric from the Creative Rockstar line and any Riley Blake solids you care to add. I decided that to begin with I’d see what I could do with these fabrics alone. My first idea was to try hexies.

I’m fairly new to English Paper Piecing, but I find it highly enjoyable (whether I’m doing it right is anybody’s guess). I made a bunch on a Saturday night and then went to bed wondering what I could do with them. At some point in the middle of the night I woke up and thought, ‘I’ll make a hexie star!’

In the light of day, this seemed like a fairly implausible idea, if not absolutely ridiculous. But I did like the idea of making stars, especially since the novel I’m working on right now, Stars Upon Stars (the sequel to Birds in the Air ) will require the construction of several star-based quilts. But if I wanted to make a star quilt, I needed to to start paper-piecing diamonds, not hexies, so after church I sped off to Joann’s, coupon in hand, and bought a packet of diamond templates.

Maybe a big star?

Maybe not–I’d need more fabric choices to make a big star interesting–and I’d also need to buy a lot more fabric. Maybe a little star:

Yes, I liked this little star much better.

But it was quickly becoming clear to me that I wasn’t going to be able to do much with adding some solids to the mix, so off I went to Fat Quarter Shop to order several Riley Blake Solids. There aren’t any solids in the Creative Rockstar line, so I had to cross my fingers that the fabrics I chose would be a good match.

I really did feel like I was flying blind, but I wasn’t sure what else to do.

I loved my first little EPP star, but I was starting to wonder how I was going to make a quilt out of it and its starry brothers and sisters (once they came into the world). I began to question if making two-toned stars was the right choice. Maybe I should only use one fabric per star.

I started playing around on my design wall, which has been temporarily moved while I work on another quilt (“Sit-in,” otherwise known as The Chair Quilt) that’s being worked out on a queen-sized sheet hanging in the space where my design wall usually leans. Maybe I could make a bunch of blue diamonds out of the second darkest blue solid and use them for a kind of nighttime background to the stars. Here’s as far as I got:


I got disillusioned with this idea quickly (although looking at it now, several days later, I think it has potential). I had the feeling I could end up doing a lot of work (i.e. paper-piece a million dark blue diamonds) and not be happy with the outcome. It was time to mess around a little.

Hmmm. Maybe stars had been the wrong idea? Maybe something else?

Yeah. Huh. The thing that was making me crazy was mixing and matching the Rockstar fabrics. I felt really limited by this.

So it was getting late, and I needed to go to bed. I knew this wasn’t the best time to start deconstructing and reconstructing, but I couldn’t help myself. I started pulling my diamond constructions apart and matching like-fabric diamonds together in pairs.

Which is when I saw the bats. Or the butterflies. Or maybe birds?

The next morning, I dragged my design wall to a more easily accessible spot (i.e. not behind a table) and started making birds. I thought the diamonds’ little kite tails could work as very small bird heads.

By dint of time and fabric usage and the fairly minor expense of diamond templates, I was on the path (EPP diamonds) that I was staying on for the rest of the journey.  I didn’t love this fabric enough to buy yards and yards of it until I figured out how to make a modern mixed-fabric block from it. So birds it was, and birds it will be.

One of the things I enjoy about the creative process is the serendipitous moment. Looking at my birds with their tiny heads, I wondered if they might be more visually interesting if their noggins were just a touch bigger. I also wondered if they needed some tail feathers to get to where they were going. I grabbed a couple of triangular scraps from the table and attached them to the top bluebird:

Now that bluebird was getting somewhere! Big heads for everybody!

Right now, all the heads and tails are made from scraps. I think I’m going to use the head and tail from the geranium bird in row four from the right, third bird down, to make templates. I find that particular bird’s balance most pleasing.

So that ends part one of my creative process on the Riley Blake/MQG 2017 challenge. I’ve ordered two yards of RB white, which I hope will be here Saturday. My plan is to applique each bird to a block of white background fabric and then piece the blocks together. My next challenge will be to figure out exactly how I want the birds to be laid out on the quilt. I don’t want it to be a perfect flock. By the way, I will be making a few more birds to bring up the rear.

Feel free to send suggestions–but please do so before it’s too late and there’s no going back! In particular, I’m interested in whether or not more visual elements can be added to the design.

Process Post: Riley Blake/MQG Challenge Quilt, Part 2

6 Replies to “Process Post–Riley Blake/MQG Challenge, Part 1”

  1. Love your funky birds …. they are a hoot and made me smile…. I think you are on the right track … I have followed you from the beginning of your quilting journey and I always enjoy how you take tradition then turn it on it’s head… so much fun. I need to go off on a tangent maybe I will actually do some sewing. Is there a size restriction to this challenge?

    How is your triangle and star quilt coming along … you have not posted a picture of the finished project.

    I saw the chairs on a different post … are they pieced / paper pieced or applique? My old eyes can not tell … how are you assembling them?
    Got to run
    Looking forward to your next podcast about this little quilt.

  2. Love your creative process in your quilts and writing. A suggestion for a visual element may be to add a destination/pit stop, such as a partial tree or branches on the right side.

  3. Looking forward to seeing this continue to progress. I’ve been working on my challenge quilt too – need to photograph and blog about it!

  4. I love the bird configuration. It’s very creative and visually exciting.
    If you’re looking for names of groups of birds, this web site is a great reference.
    A group if cranes, for exmple, is called a herd, and one might see an exaltation of larks. I did a quilt with a group of crows standing in the middle of the road and named it “Murder on Shutesbury” (which is a road we used to travel to UMass Amherst when my daughter was in attendence). Unfortunately the judge at the show in which it was entered didn’t get the reference.

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