Monday, November 3, 2014

Around the World Quilt Blog Tour: What, Why, and How I Create

I was thrilled and humbled when Greg Jones of Grey Dogwood Studio tagged me to participate in the Around the World Quilt Blog Tour.  I have been following Greg’s work for a while now, and I am continually inspired by his meticulous workmanship, his nostalgic vintage style, and his impressive creative output despite the demands of a busy career in NYC that involves business travel, conference calls, and the wearing of suits.  As a mother of creative sons, I also love that Greg doesn’t fit into the confining cultural stereotypes that continue to restrict and contain the creative energy of boys and men -- even while girls and women are finally allowed to do and be almost anything they want.  Greg, thanks for tagging me and for being such a cool role model for all the little dudes out there who love their crayons and colored pencils!

1.     What am I currently working on?

I’m currently working on a King sized (hopefully!) paper pieced Pineapple Log Cabin Quilt:
7 Blocks Done, 29 Blocks to Go

...and an experiment with Bear Paw and Sawtooth Star blocks that is starting to feel like I am aimlessly driving up and down the Interstate without a map:
Bear Paws and Sawtooth Stars, Making it Up As I Go Along
Center Medallion for my "Jingle" Quilt
Finished Border Blocks for Jingle Quilt
...and then I'm also working on my first attempt at needleturn applique, which is also proceeding without a clear plan – The FrankenWhiggish Rose Project:
FrankenWhiggish Rose, Block One of ???

Prior to this year, I only worked on one quilt at a time from start to finish.  This whole multiple project UFOs approach is an experiment for me that actually is not going very well.  I am finding that I have a really hard time forcing myself to come back to a project once I’ve set it aside for something else, and it bothers me that I have spent so much time and energy on these four projects without having any completed quilts to show for it.  I am wasting huge chunks of time spinning my wheels just trying to switch gears from one project to the next.  So I have decided to “kill these off” one quilt at a time, and then go back to my habitual Serial Quilt Monogamy. 
2.     How does my work differ from others?

This is the most difficult of the four questions for me.  I’m not sure how my work differs from others – that depends which “others” I’m being compared with!  Comparing myself to others who have been posting in this Around the World Blog Tour series, I would have to say that my work is different because there’s so much less of it!  I only manage to sneak in a couple of hours of quilting each week, and I work very slowly.  I made my first quilt in 2002 and I have only finished nine quilts in the past twelve years.  So my work is characterized by the blissful ignorance and fierce determination of the ambitious beginner!

Another way my work is different is that I’m usually working at the outer extremes of technology, either very high-tech or very low-tech, rarely in the middle.  I’m paper-piecing my giant pineapple blocks on a computerized Bernina 750 QE, using oversized foundation papers that I printed on a large format printer at the office supply store, and I played around in EQ7 software to preview color and value placement for that quilt before committing.  But the bear paw and sawtooth star blocks and most of my Jingle blocks were all pieced on my vintage 1935 Singer Featherweight.   I frequently design custom monograms and quilt labels on my computer using digitizing software for machine embroidery, but I don’t enjoy machine applique and prefer to do that by hand.  Sometimes I’ll stitch out a row of decorative stitches on the computerized Bernina and then embellish the stitching by hand with seed beads, French knots or paillettes: 
Computer Designed, Machine Embroidered, Bead Embellishments by Hand
Either I’m hand quilting old school style in a lap hoop, or machine quilting with computerized stitch length regulation on the Big ‘Nina.  This switching around and sampling of all different techniques is probably another reason why I’m still a beginner quilter after twelve years.  I’m a Jackie of all techniques, master of none!
Finally, my work is different because it is primarily utilitarian.  While I admire and enjoy the art quilts many others create for wall display, my quilts are created with a more traditional end purpose in mind.  I make quilts for my kids’ beds:
Lars's Drunken Dragons Bed Quilt
Lars's Drunken Dragons Quilt

...and quilts for us to snuggle under on the sofa while watching TV, like this one:
Bernie's Sugar Shack Leaves Quilt

I make quilts for my niece and nephew to drag around with them, like this one:
Sarah's Quilt with Minky Backing and Satin Binding

...and quilts to wrap around car seats and strollers for newborns, like this one:
Hungry Caterpillar Quilt for Gage, with Minky Backing and Satin Binding
In today’s mass-produced, throwaway consumer society, it just feels good to wrap a loved one in a handmade, one-of-a-kind quilt that I've created just for them.

3.     Why do I create?

This one is easy.  Creative people just can’t help being creative, and my favorite medium is beautiful fabric.  That’s how I accidentally became an interior designer for ten years (long story) even though I majored in history and didn’t take a single art or design course in college.  I’m a stay-home mom right now, and that’s definitely what’s best for me and my family, but I would go nuts if I wasn’t making anything.  So much of what I do disappears as soon as it’s finished.  I clean the bathrooms, but next week they will be dirty and I will have to clean them again.  I wash the same laundry week after week, shop for the same groceries, pay the bills and feed the dogs, pack lunches, cook the dinners and wash the dishes, and while all of that work is important, none of it is lasting. I have wiped so many noses over the years, changed so many diapers, and read so many bed time stories, and I’m fortunate to have been physically present for all of that for my sons -- but the accomplishments of my children belong to them and not to me.  I create because a quilt stitches together the fleeting memories of what was going on in my life in the year the quilt was made, honoring the most insignificant, ordinary days with permanence.  That process doesn’t stop when the final stitch secures the quilt binding, either.  Once the quilt is on the bed, it soaks up memories of all the bed time stories we share, the lost teeth left for the tooth fairy, the rowdy sleepovers and the Nintendo DS hidden under the pillow.  A well-made quilt lasts a long time if properly cared for.  Maybe one of them will someday outlast me!

4.     How do I work?

As I said, I only spend a few hours each week actually sewing anything.  I spend more time in “Research and Design Phase” than I do actually stitching.  I don’t have many opportunities to take classes, so I read and reread a lot of quilting books, blogs, and magazines to get ideas and learn new techniques.  I also love “speed dating” quilts on Pinterest.  While my husband is watching some awful show like Naked and Afraid or Fast 'N Loud Gas Monkey Garage, I zip through Pinterest and repin every quilt, photograph, or whatever catches my eye, quickly and without overthinking it – just anything that jumps off the screen at me.  Then I go back through my virtual bulletin boards to analyze my pins and look for common threads.  For instance, after reading Judi Madsen’s Wide Open Spaces book about contemporary heirloom quilting designs for negative spaces in quilts, and then analyzing the quilts I’d been pinning on Pinterest, I realized that many of the traditional and contemporary quilts I most admired had more contrast and used more solid fabrics than I had been using in my own quilts.  I looked at my fabric stash and realized that I was buying lots of diva print fabrics and hardly any neutral or “supporting actor” fabrics to balance out and contrast with those divas.  That’s how my bear paw project came about, as I challenged myself to buy plain old solid white fabric for the backgrounds and cut up a bold, large-scale print floral fabric from my stash in small enough pieces that the print itself is lost and it becomes more like abstract splashes of color against the white ground:

Anna Maria Horner Fabric, Chopped Up for my Bear Paws
Most of my quilts are Fake Scrappy, in that I emulate the effect of true vintage and antique thrifty scrap quilting by purchasing an enormous variety of brand-new fabric and then hacking it all into "scrap" pieces with my rotary cutter.  I do this for several reasons.  First and foremost, it’s because the greater the number of fabrics in the quilt, the less likely I am to get bored with the project before it is finished.  I also think it makes the finished quilt more interesting when you have the initial impact of the overall quilt viewed from a distance, and then upon closer inspection you have an additional level of detail as you discover each of those unique individual fabrics that make up the whole.  I do make a point of incorporating scraps from earlier quilts as much as possible, because those fabrics carry a lot of meaning for me and it’s very satisfying to make that deliberate connection between this year’s quilt and the quilt from seven years ago.  Finally, even if I’m not doing a scrappy thing, I never choose all of the fabrics for a quilt from one manufacturer’s collection and I could never make anything from a kit with all of the fabrics preselected for me.  Maybe it’s the interior designer in me creeping back in, but I need to pick out all of my own fabrics.  For years I made a living selecting combinations of colors, fabrics, and furnishings for other people.  Sometimes my clients gave me carte blanche, but other times I had to compromise a design that I was in love with in order to accommodate a client whose taste differed from my own.  Hand picking each and every fabric that goes into my quilts is my favorite part of the whole process.

Because I work so slowly and my finishes are few and far between, I’m heavily invested in each project and I challenge myself to explore new techniques with each one.  Now that I have the EQ7 quiltdesign software I will probably spend even more time on the design phase, trying out different settings and arrangements on the computer screen ahead of time to ensure that the design I commit to stitching into reality is really the best concept that I was able to conceive.

Whew – I made it!  And to think I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to think of anything to write.  If you’re a new visitor to my site for the blog tour, thanks for stopping by.  I’ve really enjoyed learning about the creative processes of other quilters on the Around the World Blog Tour, and I’m really looking forward to hearing from the two quilters I’ve tagged for next Monday, November 10th:  Kerry of Simple Bird Applique Studio and Wendy Sheppard of Ivory Spring.

Kerry of Simple Bird Applique Studio creates intricate, spectacular applique quilts that take my breath away.  I have just been in awe of her as I’ve watched her “Friends of Baltimore” quilt (designed by Sue Garman) near completion.  Kerry is a quilting teacher and that comes through in her blog, where she walks you through her process from fabric selection through the bumps and hurdles, right on down to the binding.  Kerry also designs original applique patterns that are available in her online store. 

Wendy Sheppard of Ivory Spring is another quilter who has really inspired me.  Her long-running “Thread Talk” blog series has been a valuable free-motion quilting resource for many beginners, myself included.  Her tutorials for free-motion quilting on a domestic sewing machine are better than most of the quilting books on my shelves.  Over the years, I’ve watched Wendy grow as a quilting teacher, commercial pattern designer, and cheered for her as her quilts have graced the covers of countless magazines.  I am delighted that Wendy has just published her first book, Recreating Antique Quilts.  I am really interested in learning about how the creative process of quilting is different for quilters like Wendy, for whom quilting is a career as well as a creative outlet.

I'm linking up with Anything Goes Monday, guest hosted today by Helen over at Till We Quilt Again, WIPs on Wednesday at Esther's blog, WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced, and with Design Wall Monday at Patchwork Times.  Thanks again for stopping by.  Happy stitching!


Karen said...

Your "Jingle" quilt project is so pretty. I love the colors and fabrics you used for it. Nicely done.
I like to use a lot of fabrics in a quilt and always have. Lots to look at that way. I am never really happy with a quilt I make with just a few fabrics.

Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

I love all the quilts you show!!You will get done with them all one day. I think almost all of us quilters have Quilters ADHD - we tend to go from one project to another sometimes working on up to 10 quilts at a time (or more) and no one understands the logic in that then another quilter!! I too make quilts to be used - no matter if one is a little fancier than another.
I somehow missed seeing Erin's applique BOM now you have me thinking of running to her blog to check it out.

Helen@Till We Quilt Again said...

Well it is a Great Day for me to have happened upon your blog. I so... enjoyed reading your journey and design process. Thank You for stopping by and linking up with “Anything Goes Monday”. I am enjoying be a guest host and meeting so many new quilty friends. I just started following you through G/F and Email (so I don’t miss out on your posts) and look forward to more of your creations. Your site is so interesting--Love It!

Mary Huey said...

Nice to meet you -- I resonated with your final section. I've encouraged my students to pay more attention to their personal preferences for many years and your use of Pinterest for that is a great idea!!

audrey said...

Wonderful post! I really enjoyed reading about your creative process, especially what you said about adding in a older fabric to a new quilt. So true. It just feels good to make the connection. Sometimes when I use the very last little bit of a fabric I feel reluctant to part with it, but I love seeing how many different quilts it has been sewn into and how different they might be.:)

Mary said...

1st time visitor here. You get a lot done with limited time. Utility quilts are the best. Made to be Loved forever!

Mrs. Sutherland said...

Thank you for visiting my blog and your kindly comment! What a lovely projects you're making! Your appliqué is stunning, so that is no reason not to start the LE. It must be the timefactor that stops you from starting! It is always difficult to decide what to make, because there is so much beauty to make all around!
I'm very glad to live now, with all the possibilities to see what others are creating, and communicate with people all over the world about our sewing passion. It is so inspiring! Thank you for sharing and regards from Mar

Carrie P. said...

I enjoyed reading about your quilt journey. I really like the paragraph about why you create. You go MOM!

deb @ frugal little bungalow said...

I have enjoyed this post and viewing your lovely quilts ! :)

I think that I am pretty slow as well..mostly hand applique or hand quilting or when I piece, a lot of seam ripping, lol..

Teresa in Music City said...

Your quilts are beautiful - expecially your applique - magnificent!!! I am big fans of Keri and Wendy too. The inspiration we receive from others is one of the biggest reasons I love the blog world. Glad to get a chance to know you better :)

Lane said...

Great post Rebecca! I really enjoyed it. And, I'm now following three more blogs, thanks to your recommendations. Have a great week! Lane

Anonymous said...

Great write up - I agree with you - one major project at a time. I plan on doing only 1 ONE on-line BOM next year - this year I jumped into too many and life challenges have even kept me from doing that like I wanted!

I am doing what you are doing - get things finished that are hanging around.