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:
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.
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.
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.
Many, many thanks to the Chattahoochee Evening Stars Quilt Guild for inviting Frances O’Roark Dowell to launch Birds in the Air at the 2016 Stars N Stitches Quilt Show on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, in Cumming, Georgia.
Author Frances O’Roark Dowell signs copies of her new novel Birds in the Air on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, at the annual conference of the Atlanta-area’s Chattahoochee Evening Stars Quilt Guild. Birds in the Air (Milton Falls Media, Sept.) is Dowell’s (Dovey Coe, The Secret Language of Girls, Trouble the Water) first book written for adult readers. Marianne Fons calls it “a truly enjoyable read” about “the power of quilts to connect, heal, and restore the soul.”
Author Frances O’Roark Dowell (l.) celebrated the launch of Birds in the Air (Milton Falls Media, Sept.) with a trunk show and book signing on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, at the annual meeting of the Atlanta-area’s Chattahoochee Evening Stars Quilt Guild. The show featured a number of quilts by Dowell (Dovey Coe, The Secret Language of Girls, Trouble the Water) incorporating variations on the traditional Birds in the Air quilt block, a central element in her new novel — her first for adult readers.
Marie Bostwick is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous books, including A Single Thread,The Second Sister, Between Heaven and Texas, and most recently From Here to Home. Her novels feature creative, resilient women who face their problems with intelligence and humor, and who get by with a little help from their friends. Quilting is a central preoccupation with many of Marie’s characters, making her books especially dear to those of us who love a good novel and a good quilt with equal passion.
I interviewed Marie recently via email. In our exchange I discovered a delightful, funny and thoughtful woman (it’s always a treat when writers you love turn out to be nice people). I’m excited to give away a copy of her new book From Here to Home to one lucky reader. Leave a comment below by Friday, April 22nd, to have a chance to win.
Frances: Before we start talking about your marvelous new book, From Here to Home, I want to talk about your quilting. I’ve seen pictures of your quilts and they’re beautiful! How did you start quilting? What are your favorite kinds of quilts to make?
Marie: Well…I’d love to say it was because I had this deep, ineffable need to express myself creatively. The truth is I was walking by a quilt shop in a strip mall in Texas, saw they gave classes, and thought this would be a good way to get a break from my toddlers and engage in adult conversation while I still remembered how. (Bet I’m not the only one who can say that.)
The creativity part came later, when I found out how much I truly adored quilting. It brought me back to that creative part of me I’d given up on after getting a C on my wood sculpture in my fourth grade art class. I often say that I quilt because I don’t paint. (Bet I’m not the only one who can say that either.)
As far as a favorite kind of quilt; for a long time the answer to that question would have been traditional piecing. Now my favorite kind of quilting is whatever I’m working on at the moment. I set myself a goal to tackle a new technique every year or two. That’s opened up a lot of new avenues for me – applique, paper piecing, using made fabrics, learning to quilt my own tops instead of always relying on a longarmer. I’ve been more successful at mastering some techniques than others, but I’ve enjoyed it all.
Right now, I am all about crazy quilting. Perle cotton makes me go weak in the knees!
Frances: Are you a member of a quilt guild or any kind of quilting group? If so, talk about the ways these groups have been meaningful to you. What’s your favorite thing about being around other quilters?
Marie: My work and travel schedule is hectic and unpredictable so I haven’t been able to join a traditional guild. However, a few years back I started an online quilting group through my website. (That was back when websites still had forums – in the old days of ten years ago.) We started with about 25 people.
Now we have a Facebook group – Cobbled Court Quilt Circle Online – with about 1100 members. We do swaps, charity projects, post pictures of our quilts, share tips about tools and techniques, ask for advice about problems we’re having or what border looks best.
Even though it’s an online group, people make strong personal connections. Sometimes we meet in person too. Recently, I was in Washington DC so I asked if anybody from the area wanted to have a meetup. About 20 of us went to a quilting/mixed media shop in Alexandria, VA and had lunch afterward. It was great getting to talk face to face.
What I love about being around quilters is the way that it opens but avenues to meet and make friends with people I would never have known otherwise, people whose life experience or backgrounds are very different from mine. We begin with a love of quilting as common ground and, before long, we’re finding so much else we have in common.
Frances: You’re a novelist and a quilter. What kind of connections, if any, do you see between making quilts and writing novels?
Marie: Something I have discovered over the years is that artists of all stripes – from writers and composers, to sculptors and choreographers and, yes, quilters and fiber artists too – go through similar stages of the creative process.
It starts with an idea that seems very clear and very, very exciting. At this stage, you can’t wait to get to work. You’re sure you’re onto something brilliant, that you are brilliant!
About halfway in, you decide you are the opposite of brilliant. You wonder why you ever, ever thought this was a good idea. It’s just not turning out like you thought it would – not that you can really remember at this point. (By the way, when I’m writing, this feeling always hits me somewhere between pages 160 and 185. It’s eerily consistent.) You’ll be sorely tempted to give up and start something new. And it’s possible you will. But, if you don’t, you’re probably going back and doing some serious editing, ripping and re-sewing, or the like.
Then – assuming you didn’t give up – as you get toward the end, you start to become excited again. Your project might not have turned out exactly like you envisioned but there are some very good, and surprising, things about it. You’re pleased with the effort, eager to show it to others. You realize that you learned a lot in the process and are starting to think about how you can apply that to your next project. You get excited all over again.
Now, because quilting is my hobby as opposed to my profession, the emotional swings I experience in quilting aren’t as dramatic, but it’s definitely that same creative roller coaster ride. I think this is something just about every artist can relate to.
Frances: In From Here to Home, we return to the tiny Texas town of Too Much and what remains of the Templeton clan. The last time we saw Mary Dell and company, in the final pages of Between Heaven and Texas, it was 1984 and all kind of exciting things were just getting started—Mary Dell’s quilt shop, The Patchwork Palace, the romance between Lydia Dale and Graydon, etc. From Here to Home is set in the present day, which is to say some thirty years later. Why did you make the choice to jump so far ahead in time? And do you think you’ll ever go back and write about the years you leapt over?
Marie: Originally, I did plan for three “Too Much, Texas” books. But when I started to sit down and plot out the middle bit, I realized that the things that happened as Mary Dell built her business and life just weren’t as momentous as what happened later.
A good story requires drama, a seemingly insurmountable problem to be faced. That’s what I was able to give readers in From Here to Home that I wouldn’t have been able to supply in a book focused on the middle years of Mary Dell and Howard’s lives. It’s a plot that keeps you turning pages.
Frances:Mary Dell is just fabulous—she’s the best friend we all wish we had. One of my favorite things about her is that she’s so down to earth and yet larger (and gaudier) than life when it comes to clothes. What do you think this dichotomy says about who Mary Dell is? How fun is it to come up with her wardrobe choices? Do you make it all up, or are her outfits inspired by someone you know in real life?
Marie: You really hit upon something here that is important. Mary Dell’s wardrobe choices are very gaudy – she never met an animal print she didn’t love and one of her favorite sayings is, “more red is more better.” But there’s a reason for that quality that goes far beyond a quirky character trait.
The thing about Mary Dell is this: she knows she has no taste, she even jokes about having, “no more taste than a hothouse tomato”. But, guess what? She doesn’t care. She likes what she likes and she is who she is. She makes no apologies for it. That’s what I absolutely love about Mary Dell. She’s not proud but she is confident, comfortable in her own skin. I think that’s what readers like about her too.
Her wardrobe is really all of my own invention – I just sit there and try to think of the loudest, craziest combinations of colors and patterns I can come up and go with that. Yes, it’s a lot of fun.
Frances: I love Howard! I love that he’s a real (if made-up) person, not just a stick figure with Downs. But I’m curious—was it hard to get inside the head the character of a young man with an intellectual disability? And speaking of getting into men’s minds, how did you go about creating Rob Lee, who’s returned from Afghanistan with PTSD?
Marie: Thanks! I love Howard too.
You know, it really wasn’t hard at all to get in Howard’s head. Cognitive challenges or not, people are people. We want the same things – love, acceptance, happiness in our relationships, satisfaction in our work, a chance to prove ourselves. At this stage of his life, Howard wants to be independent, to go out into the world and test himself, to have control over his choices. I have three grown sons and watched them all go through that same stage of life – perhaps at a younger chronological age than Howard – but the desire was the same.
Learning about PTSD was more challenging. I read many books on the subject. The ones that contained first person narratives from people who had suffered through it, and also from the family members who were walking alongside them, were crucial in helping me get that portion of the story right.
Frances: What’s the hardest thing about writing a series? What’s your favorite thing?
Marie: First off, let me say that I’ve never written a series by planning to do it. What happens is that I finish a book and find that I want to know more about the main character, or I realize that a secondary character has a story of they want to tell.
Part of the reason I never plan to write one is that it is just really hard to do. You’ve got to figure out a way to make the story, setting, and characters seem fresh to people who read the previous books and, at the same time, you have to make sure that you cover enough of the older story so new readers won’t feel like they came in at the middle of the movie. It’s a tricky balance to strike.
However, the part I do like about writing a series is the sense that you’re getting to visit with an old friend, someone you’ve missed talking with. From the letters I get, I know that is what readers like about reading a series as well.
Frances: I know you’re working on something now. Are you the kind of writer who resists talking about her current project or can you tell us a little of what it’s about? If you don’t want to spill the beans just yet, can you tell us when we can expect to see a new book in the stores?
Marie: I really don’t like to talk about a book until I’m finished with it. However, I can tell you that my next book is set in Seattle, involves three sisters who are failed artistic prodigies. One of them is a part time mermaid. As you can imagine, I’m having a lot of fun with that.
Frances: What’s your big quilting dream that may never come true, but is fun to think about (owning your own quilt shop, spending your retirement years taking quilting cruises)? Do you have any special hopes for your writing career?
Marie: My quilting fantasy involves making a Baltimore album quilt – by hand – and doing it well. This doesn’t really seem like something that will ever happen though; my needle turn applique skills are less than stellar. And where would I ever find the time? But it is nice to think about.
As far as writing, I’d like to live long enough to write 50 full-length novels. I’ve got 38 to go.
I’d like to do that well, too. Really well.
Remember, leave a comment by Friday, April 22, 2016, and you’ll be automatically entered into the drawing for Marie’s new book, From Here to Home! Please make sure to leave contact info. Thanks!