The Unraveling (front)
The Unraveling (back)
Holy Ghost Window (front)
Lynda Barry, Syllabus
Gia Tolentino, Funhouse Mirror
The Unraveling (front)
The Unraveling (back)
Holy Ghost Window (front)
Lynda Barry, Syllabus
Gia Tolentino, Funhouse Mirror
Okay, here are some pix of the quilts I talk about:
Best in Show: “Smile” by By Leanne Chahley, Stephanie Ruyle, Felicity Ronaghan, Kari Vojtechovsky, Melissa Ritchie, Diane Stanley, Marci Debetaz, Debbie Jeske, Karen Foster, Hillary Goodwin
“Double-Edged Love” by Victoria Findlay Wolfe
“My Brother’s Jeans” by Melissa Averinos
“Going Up” by Stephanie Skardal
“Separated” by Val Lubereck
“Carolinas” by Terry Peart
“Passage #3” by Carson Converse
“Line After Line: by Michelle Settle
“Briar Rose” by Patty Dudek
“Weave” by Susan Slusser Clay
“Random Hexagons by the Block” by Catherine Redford
“But, Was that Me?” by Heidi Parkes
This picture is apropos of nothing in Episode 224; I just needed a picture. It’s the back of a quilt I made several years ago. I hope for next episode’s show notes, I will have all sorts of finished quilts to show you! Or at least one!
I’ve been asked to join the Board of the Quilt Alliance! To watch a few of my favorite Quilt Alliance “Go Tell It “quilt videos, go here, here and here:
To see Emily Bode’s clothes made from quilts, go here:
See you next time!
Okay, so when last I wrote, my process journey had taken me here:
A couple of friends read my last post and responded with some ideas for moving forward. The wonderful HollyAnne (from String and Story) suggested a “birds on the wire” motif and drew me a picture, which I thought was darling:
It was tempting to go in this direction, but as I have been thinking a lot about abstract art lately, I decided that ultimately HollyAnne’s idea leaned too much toward the narrative/concrete/actual side of things for my purposes. I wanted my birds to be birds and abstractions of birds all at the same time. I remembered Matisse’s paper cut-outs (an early draft of the quilt brought Matisse to mind for my friend Kristin as well), and took inspiration from them.
Polynesia, The Sky – by Henri Matisse
Vicki (My Creative Corner 3) was kind enough to send a sketch that offered a different formation for my birds:
I liked that a lot and started playing around with my own sketches for a flight pattern. I could see in my head what I wanted, but it was harder than I thought to draw!
Ultimately, I decided to draw it with painter’s tape:
And from there, I started pinning up my birds. A friend, seeing the picture below on the show notes for the last episode of “The Off-Kilter Quilt,” noted that a gray background might help the lighter-colored birds stand out more, and she’s absolutely right. However, I had already spent as much money as I planned on spending to meet this challenge, so the background will stay as is.
I played around with some other elements, trying to figure out if the quilt needed something more. While I didn’t hate the additions I played with, I don’t think they added much, and my friends who were giving me feedback online (HollyAnne, Vicki, Kristin and Jen) agreed with me.
After I appliqued the birds to the background fabric, my main concern was that the quilt needed to be wider. To that end, I played with adding a border to one side. First, I tried this (please excuse how dark this picture is):
And then I switched sides and added another row, so it looked like this:
I liked the width it added, but i wasn’t sure about this border in general. When I sent a picture to Kristin, she agreed that it added something, but it wasn’t quite right–it didn’t fit in with the quilt’s curves. Maybe I should just add a solid border? So that’s what I tried next:
I also sort of liked this, but when Kristin said that it made the quilt look like a book, I knew exactly what she meant. So because I have other quilts to make and a life to live, I decided to simply have a skinny quilt. I’ll add a little color by using a variegated border made from all the fabrics in the line, but I’m not going to add any more width.
I made the binding last night (I’m trying to make this my new habit–to make the binding before I start quilting). To get an idea of how it will look, I hung it up alongside the top:
As of this writing, I’m at work on the back. In an effort to spend as little money as possible, I’m using a long piece of muslin I had lying around. It needs to be just a touch wider and just a touch longer. So far I’ve added a pieced trip to the back (and may add one more) and plan to add something to the bottom to give it a bit more length.
I’ve enjoyed how collaborative this part of the process has been. Even when people make suggestions you ultimately don’t use, they’re useful in helping you re-vision your design and consider other possibilities.
Next up, quilting the quilt!
I’ve been working on the latest MQG fabric challenge quilt, and I think I finally have my Riley Blake birds ready to fly! They started as fat 8ths …
Made a brief detour as hexies …
Finally became birds …
And now have formed a swirling flock …
Next up: ironing the birds down and then appliqueing them. And then figuring out what to do for the backing. And on and on and on …
Still working on the chairs:
What is this piece of furniture called?
Almost done with The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson. Enjoyed the first 250 pages very much, and then sort of lost interest. I’m a character-centered reader, but I like a little plot with my characters, and there wasn’t enough plot in this story to satisfy me.
Have you signed up for my newsletter yet? You get a free story when you do!
See you next time!
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.
I recently watched Mary Fons’ webinar, You Call That a Quilt? Quilt Styles in America: Traditional, Contemporary, Studio/Art, and Modern, on the Modern Quilt Guild website. This tour de force overview of American quilts did not disappoint, though I felt a little breathless by the end—Mary covered a lot of territory in a short period of time in her entertaining, high energy style.
I have to admit, though, that I was surprised when she mentioned the PBS series Why Quilts Matter: History, Art and Politics and said something along the lines of “You have to watch this!” We’re talking about a show that over nine episodes worth of quilt talk didn’t once mention her mother, Marianne Fons, arguably one of the most important people in American quilting for the last thirty years.
Not to mention that the series isn’t all that good.
In fact, Why Quilts Matter is problematic on a number of levels. The narration is poorly written, sentimental and clichéd. “The quilt may seem as American as apple pie, but it did not originate in America,” the first episode begins, giving you your first clue that Aaron Sorkin didn’t write the script.
Even if the writing were up to snuff, the emphasis on money in Why Quilts Matter would still be offensive. “Learn what makes one antique quilt more valuable and important than another,” one episode description reads; another entire episode is devoted to the quilt marketplace, ignoring the fact that most quilters operate in a gift economy, giving away their quilts for free.
Even more insulting is not only the absence of Fons and Porter but also the average American quilter. Only a few of the 16 million quilters that make up Quilt Nation appear in the series’ 250 minutes, and unless they’re famous, they’re seen only briefly and mostly shown from unflattering angles. The average quilter has been displaced by far more important people—primarily antiques dealers. In fact, one of the prevailing messages over the course of six-plus hours is that quilts largely matter because there is a market for antique and art quilts. If people will pay lots of money for something, why then of course it matters.
But the biggest problem with Why Quilts Matter is that the claims it makes for the importance of quilts—that they’re historic documents, that some are worthy of hanging in museums, and others have been channels for women’s political expression—have very little to do with why quilts matter.
So why do quilts matter? Here are just a few of the reasons I can think of:
1. For centuries, women have poured their creative energy into making quilts. Whether these quilts were works of art or just nice bedcovers, they were imbued with their makers’ intelligence and ingenuity. For many women throughout history, making quilts was one of their few means of creative self-expression. A woman couldn’t necessarily justify pulling out her paints and easel to do a study of a prairie sunset, but she could get out her needle and thread without anyone questioning how she was using her time. Quilts matter because they are expressions of women’s creativity, resourcefulness and skill.
2. Once cotton fabric became widely available, quilting was anybody’s—and everybody’s—game. The means of production were simple and at hand: needle, thread, fabric, fingers. A piano might not be in the budget, but anybody could take a couple of old shirts and a pair of scissors and go to town. The great secret of quiltmaking is that anyone can make a quilt. Anyone. When it comes to arts and crafts, you don’t get any more democratic than quilting. Throughout history, women of all ages, ethnicities and social strata have made quilts. Quilts matter because whoever you are, wherever you are, you can make a quilt. And that’s cool and kind of profound.
3. Quilts matter because here in the 21st century U.S. quilting is the last traditional American craft still being widely practiced. Go to any periodical rack in any grocery store and you’ll find at least one quilting magazine, maybe two or three. Magazines about blacksmithing, glass blowing, basketweaving and decoy carving? Not so many. In fact, zero. Millions of people make quilts every year, for themselves and for family and friends. Moreover, these quilts are very often functional—which is to say, they’re made to be used. Traditional crafting of all kinds is still practiced in this country, but the products tend to lean toward the artistic or esoteric object—the ceramic bowl that you can’t actually eat out of, the beautiful basket that’s made for decoration, not for carrying your groceries home from the market.
4. Quilts matter because making things matter. Humans are born makers, and we are less than we could be when we don’t make stuff. This is something I’ll write more about in another post, but what I’ll say now is that quilts are some of the last, great homemade objects, and quilters are passionate about making quilts because the making is so deeply satisfying.
One day someone will make a series that does justice to quilts and quilters in a comprehensive, in-depth and truthful way. In the meantime, go watch Mary Fons over at the Modern Quilt Guild (you have to be a member to access the video—worth it) or check out The Great American Quilt Revival. If you think quilts matter, I’d recommend giving Why Quilts Matter a pass.
First, a disclaimer: I know nothing about judging quilts. Okay, I know that you’re supposed to check the binding to make sure it’s sewn on good and tight and plenty stuffed. But therein ends my knowledge. I do know something about judging in general, though, having judged several writing contests over the years, most recently the Scholastic Book Fairs’ Kids Are Authors competition. First of all, judging is hard work. Second, while it’s fairly easy to whittle entries down to the semi-finalists, it’s much more difficult to narrow the field down to the finalists, and almost impossible to pick a winner. Usually each of the finalists has hit all the marks: in writing contests this means plausible plots that move along at a good pace, well-developed characters, well-constructed sentences, and stories with heart. So how does one decide?
Well, you resist choosing the baseball story just because you like baseball, and you don’t hand over the big prize to the kid who wrote a tearjerker about a dog just because you’re a sucker for dog stories. You try to not let your own biases get in the way of making a fair choice. Oftentimes your final decision comes down to originality, personality and a certain je ne sais quoi.
Right now in the quilty world, there are those who are questioning the 2016 QuiltCon judges for selecting My Brother’s Jeans by Melissa Averinos for Best of Show. That there would be naysayers is a given. There are always naysayers. But in this case, what are the naysayers naying about and do they have a point?
From what I’ve heard, those who question the bestness of My Brother’s Jeans feel that it’s not a technically proficient quilt. Phrases like poor construction and indifferent workmanship have been bandied about. Many who criticize the choice feel the quilt got its BOS nod because of the story behind it—the jeans in question belonged to Averinos’ brother, who committed suicide in 2009. The quilt is a mourning quilt and it’s difficult not to be moved by it once you know the story.
Since I’ve only seen pictures of My Brother’s Jeans, I’m truly in no position to judge. I should say I do like it, very much so, but to really know a quilt you need to see it live and in person; photographs rarely tell the whole story. I will also say that I’m more than willing to give Averinos the benefit of the doubt–I assume any roughness in construction or design was intentional and for the purpose of evoking a particular emotional response. But as I said, I’m really not in a position to judge.
On the other hand, BOS judges Scott Murkin, Cheryl Arkison, and Lisa Congdon were in a position to judge, and clearly they liked what they saw when they examined My Brother’s Jeans. So just what were they looking for? What are the criteria for an excellent modern quilt? How do they differ from the criteria for an excellent traditional quilt?
There are those who feel that the criteria for excellence in a quilt should be the same across genres. Whether a quilt is modern or traditional or some mix thereof, workmanship and design should be the primary measures of a quilt’s superiority. In a 2015 interview Murkin, a NAQ certified judge, did a marvelous job of outlining what excellent workmanship consists of. Workmanship, he told Mandy Lein of Mandalei.com, “focuses primarily on the structural integrity of the quilt. Secure seams, straight lines (where intended), smooth curves (where intended), well-secured quilting stitches that hold the layers together securely without any excess fullness, straight edges (where intended), square corners and secure edge finishes are all part of this equation. While textiles are subject to the wear and tear of everyday use and cleaning, a well-made quilt should last a long time under general usage conditions. Workmanship that undermines the longevity of a quilt will be noted during the judging process.”
The parenthetical refrain of “where intended” is key to considering how one judges the modern quilt, in my opinion. Modern quilters don’t always have the same intentions as their traditional sisters and brothers. The problem of uneven stitching might recede in the face of an original design or a powerful message. A perfect point might matter, but not as much as the quilt’s emotional impact. Moreover, a less than perfect point might just be intentional, a way of causing friction in the viewer’s experience. In short, intangibles will be considered when considering a modern quilt.
It should be noted that of the three judges on this year’s panel, only Murkin is a certified quilt judge. One of the judges, Lisa Congdon, is not a quilter at all, but a painter and illustrator. Last year’s line-up was similar, sporting only one NAQ certified judge, Stevii Graves. 2015 judge Janine Vangool quilts but is better known as a graphic designer and UPPERCASE magazine editor. In a post-QuiltCon blogpost, Vangool wrote that her favorite entries “had interesting and personal descriptions of how the quilt’s inspiration came into play … Quilts in which the personality of the maker shone through were the most pleasurable to look at—and the most memorable weeks later.”
I believe that by selecting judges who are not actually certified to judge, the Modern Quilt Guild is signaling that while having a securely attached binding may be important, it may not be paramount when judging the overall excellence of a quilt. Not that MQG is uninterested in workmanship. The entry rules state that, “QuiltCon reserves the right to reject any quilts that are in poor condition when received and seen in person. Examples include, but are not limited to, torn fabric, stained fabric, poor craftsmanship or an unfinished quilt.”
So it’s not that MQG doesn’t have standards. It’s not that workmanship isn’t important. But by using judges who either aren’t quilters or aren’t certified quilting judges, there is the suggestion that many factors will be considered when choosing the best of show quilts, not only workmanship and design. What these factors are may vary from quilt to quilt, show to show. The fact is, judging the modern quilt may be a more subjective process than many of us are comfortable with.
Let me end by saying this: I believe all honor and respect are due to the quilter who places a high value on technical excellence. Too often we dismiss her as a member of the quilt police, a little old anal lady caught up in enforcing rules and making the rest of us miserable. Why not think of her instead as the Olympic athlete of quilters, the fabric world’s Michael Phelps? We admire exceptional skill in athletes; why not in quilters?
Moreover, I think workmanship matters, and I think it should and does matter to modern quilters. In the same interview quoted above, Murkin goes onto say, “Modern quilters have to be careful that ‘breaking the rules’ doesn’t become an easy excuse for sloppy workmanship. Workmanship criteria that are no longer valid, i.e. no longer have an effect on the durability or longevity of our work can and should be abandoned when they no longer serve us and just become arbitrary rules. But many of those workmanship criteria have real, demonstrable effects on the presentation and life of our quilted creations and it makes sense to invest ourselves in making our work better.”
I believe that as Modern Quilting evolves we’ll see more and more quilts that are remarkable for their workmanship as well as their design and originality. I think we’re seeing them already. But I’m glad that modern quilters aren’t afraid to give big love to a quilt with a good story and a beating heart.
P.S. I haven’t yet listened to Annie Smith and Christa Watson’s discussion about this year’s QuiltCon, in which they talk about My Brother’s Jeans, but I plan to this afternoon. You can find it on Annie’s website, http://simplearts.com/blogs/ and on iTunes.