Thursday, January 4, 2018

Behold! My First Finished Quilt Top of 2018: "Paint Me A Story"

Some wise Internet sage proposed that how we spend our New Year's Day would characterize how we would spend our time and what we would accomplish throughout the entire year.  Well, the only thing I accomplished on New Year's Day was to bake a new scone recipe that no one liked.  Baking Fail!  I also slipped and fell down the stairs while carrying a laundry basket down on New Year's Day, and that's not a very promising augur for the new year either.  But yesterday I finally, FINALLY finished a quilt top that I started working on way back in May of 2014That was three and a half YEARS ago, for those of you who are insufficiently caffeinated to do math this morning.  

65" x 65" Finished Quilt Top, "Paint Me A Story"
Those of you who have been following my blog for awhile are probably sick of this quilt already.  I honestly can't explain why it took me so long to get around to adding the final border to this top, but I have to be in the right mood to do borders for some reason, which is silly because borders are nowhere near as difficult as sharp little triangle points!  This quilt started out with nine 10 1/2" bear paw blocks using a large scale floral Anna Maria Horner print called LouLou Thi Clippings in Passion colorway.  I rotary cut my bear paw patches without paying attention to the print as an experiment in breaking the rule about how big prints shouldn't be chopped up into small pieces because that "loses" the print, that is, you can't tell what the print is supposed to be when you cut a large scale print into small pieces.  I really liked the effect, though -- kind of abstract, kind of like gobs of paint in some places, with recognizable flowers or butterflies in other places.  I used an orchid pink batik fabric for the center of my bear paw blocks, and I was originally just going to set them with alternate plain white blocks so I could do something challenging with the quilting...

10 1/2" Finished Bear Paw Block

Original Layout Plan
But then I had this idea that I wanted to do wide white sashing and sawtooth star cornerstones in hand marbled fabrics, and I spent some time fiddling around with different sizes, running red dye on one sawtooth star, and trying out different methods of piecing the stars to figure out which one would give me the best accuracy with the least frustration.  I ended up foundation paper piecing most of these 4" blocks.

4" Finished Paper Pieced Sawtooth Stars
I'm glad I added the sawtooth stars.  I liked the bear paw blocks, but in the end I couldn't bring myself to make a quilt using just the one print fabric.  I felt like I didn't get enough artistic input, you know?  Like it was all about Anna Maria Horner's fabric design.  Combining Horner's print fabric with Marjorie Lee Bevis's marbled hand dyed fabrics enhanced that gobs-of-paint vibe that I was loving from my bear paw blocks, and any time I start combining fabrics that "don't go together" (not from the same fabric collection, batiks/hand dyes with prints, traditional and reproduction prints with modern prints, etc.) I feel like I'm much more involved in the creative process, like the resulting quilt is a collaboration between me and each of those fabric designers rather than me just executing something that reflects one fabric designer's artistic vision.  I have nothing against quilters who love to make quilts from all one collection or from kits -- don't get me wrong!  But as an interior designer by trade, combining different fabrics and furnishings and lighting from all different sources to create something new and unique is what I DO; that's how I best express myself artistically, and that's what is most fulfilling to me personally in my hobbies.  I am never content to just follow the directions.  :-)

So once I had the bear paw blocks, the sashing, and the sawtooth stars, I started thinking about the borders.  I started making blocks for this quilt before I had my EQ quilt design software, but by the time I got around to border options I was able to audition several possibilities on my computer.

Pieced Border Possibililties, EQ7 Mock Up
The pieced border options were ultimately rejected, however, because I felt like they were all too busy-looking.  I wanted a clean, fresh, modern feel for this quilt, with plenty of negative space for custom quilting.  And as I was stitching the top together, enjoying the bright splashes and swirls of vivid color, I found myself thinking back to my elementary school art classes in the late 1970s, remembering how all of us kids clustered around big, donut shaped communal sinks to clean our paintbrushes and all of our paint colors swirled together in glorious rainbow streams of color in the basin, swishing down the drain.  Man, I can even smell the acrylic paint right now; that's how strong the memories are.  I have to show you the sink I'm talking about now.  Gotta love the Internet -- I now present to you the round, communal sink from Birchview Elementary School in Wayzata, MN:

I Found the Sink!!!
I apologize for the urinals.  They had this same sink fixtures in the boys' and girls' restrooms as in the art room, and they may have even had one in each of the lower grade classrooms as well, but I could only find this picture from the boys' bathroom to share with you.  These sinks are sized for little kids, low to the ground, and they allow for lots of little hands to be washed simultaneously with minimal wasted water.  To give you some perspective, here is a photo of some adults using one of these sinks:

Scaled for Use By Children
I think the edge of the sink basin was almost up to my armpits when I was in kindergarten.  There's a rubber ring on the floor that you step on to turn the water on and then it sprays all the way around the deep, donut-shaped basin like a fountain. 

You Have No Idea How Excited I Was to Find This Picture
OMG, people!  THAT IS MY SINK FROM BIRCHVIEW ELEMENTARY SCHOOL THAT I HAVEN'T SEEN SINCE 1983!!!  I can't believe I was able to find it so easily on the Internet!Now you have to imagine that same sink in an art classroom instead of in the boys' restroom, and you have to imagine it all splattered with paint like this:

Painted Dumped In Some Random Sink for Illustrative Purposes
And imagine a dozen or so little second graders clustered around that sink, diligently cleaning their paint brushes at the end of class, and one little girl with long, tangled hair is using her paint brush to swirl the colors together in the sink until they look very much like the fabrics in a certain quilt top that she would make nearly 40 years later...

Do You See the Paint Splotches and Swirls That I See?
The other thing that the bright colors and streaky paints remind me of is captivating children's book illustrations by artists like Eric Carle:

The Inimitable Eric Carle
And so, throughout all of the hours over the past three years that I was working on this quilt, as I cut and stitched fabric, ripped stitches out and redid them, threw up different border fabrics on the wall for audition, and considered all of the possibilities of what this quilt could be, I reconnected to a much younger version of myself and to all those hours, so many years ago, learning to create in elementary school art classes and learning to read, to imagine, and to dream from the picture books that were read to me by my mother and by my teachers (thanks, Mom!).  That's why I'm naming this quilt "Paint Me a Story."  It makes me happy.

You know, when I first started this quilt (before finishing another one that was in progress), my then-6th-grader son Anders was indignant about my "poor work ethic" (starting a new project when the last project wasn't finished yet), and he wanted to know for whom I was making this quilt.  He had seen me make quilts for him, for his brother, for his dad, and as gifts for other people's children.  I told him this one was just for ME -- and it really was.

Of course this is a finished quilt top only, not a finished quilt.  I've pressed it, folded it neatly and hung it on a hanger in the guest room so it will be ready for my long arm frame once my long arm quilting skills are ready to tackle it.  This quilt is going to get some custom quilting for sure, and I need to think some more about whether I want to try to tell more of the story through the quilting design.  It needs to percolate in a back corner of my mind while I work on something else.  Also I need to wait for an online fabric order to arrive because I ended up doing wider borders than I had originally planned and I came up 5" short on my chosen backing fabric.  Because no, I never learn, and I always, ALWAYS need more fabric than I think I do!  The backing fabric for this one is aptly named, though, don't you think?

"Slow and Steady" Backing Fabric by Tula Pink
"Slow and Steady," indeed!!  Now, why did I procrastinate so long on the borders?  Because I much prefer chopping up fat quarters of fabric into small pieces to wrangling with long lengths of border fabric that need to be prewashed, pressed, straightened, folded, and cut very carefully to ensure border strips that are straight when unfolded rather than zigzagged.  I have always hated cutting out plain borders, but I think I have a method that works for me now so hopefully my future projects won't be as likely to stall out at this stage.

First, I measure the length and width of my quilt top through the center to determine the cut lengths of my border strips.  I snip into the selvage of my fabric about an inch into the not-quite-straight edge that was cut from the bolt and rip straight through the opposite selvage to have a perfectly straight, on-grain fabric edge.  Then, in order to work with a piece of fabric that is as small and as manageable as possible, I add a few inches to my required border length, take a snip through the selvage at measurement of my border fabric yardage, and then I tear straight across through the other selvage.  Then I multiply my cut border width times four, again adding a little bit for a fudge factor, and then I take a snip at the torn fabric edge and rip all the way down the lengthwise grain.  So for this quilt top that finished up at 65" x 65", wanting to add four borders that were each 5" finished width, I tore my prewashed border fabric into a piece that was approximately 24" wide by 70" long.  I folded the rest of the fabric and put it away for future use, and took my rectangle of rough-ripped fabric over to the ironing board for pressing and straightening.  Much easier to get everything aligned properly for cutting with the pre-ripped fabric than it would be if I tried to press, straighten, and fold the 3 1/2 yard length of 44" wide fabric or whatever it was.

Then, instead of measuring the center of my quilt top and then measuring and cutting my border strips to that same measurement, I now skip the measuring.  I just lay my starched and pressed quilt top on my work table, lay my border strips straight through the center of my quilt, aligning it with seam lines so I know it's straight, and smooth all of the fabric layers with my hand.

Measureless Measuring for Final Borders
Then I use a ruler to draw a chalk line on the border strips even with the edge of the quilt top, still with the border strip lined up down the CENTER of the quilt top, and cut along the chalk line with scissors.

Just Cut Along the Yellow Line
So fast, and so accurate, too!  And then I pin those border strips to the edge of the quilt where they belong, matching the centers and ends and then filling in with pins in between those reference points.  Because the rainbow striped border was pieced from several fabrics, I chose to pin my outer border strips so they would be on the bottom when sewn, next to the feed dogs. 

Border Pinned, Ready for Stitching
That way I could babysit the seam allowances on the rainbow border to make sure none of them got flipped the wrong direction.  Do you notice how my pins are oriented, with the glass heads on the left side and no part of the pins jutting out beyond the raw fabric edges?  That's so I can use my 97D patchwork foot with its accompanying seam guide:

Patchwork Foot 97D with Dual Feed and Seam Guide
This setup on my machine helps me get a perfectly straight, perfectly accurate 1/4" seam all the way down the long border seams, resulting in a nice, flat border and a quilt top with 90 degree angles at all four corners.  Notice also the Band-Aid I'm modeling in the photo above, because OF COURSE my stupid finger has to start bleeding when I'm sewing on WHITE borders!

And now that I have chronicled the finished quilt top and documented my process for sewing quilt borders, I am moving on to the Tabby Mountain project that I told you about last time. 
"Tabby Mountain" by Tula Pink for Free Spirit, Free Pattern Available here
This is a quilt that I stumbled across online, really love exactly as-is, and even already own all of the pictured fabrics in my own stash, so I'm hoping it goes together much, MUCH more quickly than Paint Me A Story did. 

My Ruler and My Fat Quarters, Ready to Go!
I was able to find that 30 degree triangle ruler that I needed wanted, and now that my design wall is FINALLY EMPTY FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE IT WAS INSTALLED, I have a place to lay out all of my triangles as I'm cutting them out!  I might have to deviate ever so slightly from the quilt as it's pictured, though, since the pattern calls for 1/3 yard of each of the solids and I have fat quarters of each color instead.  Not sure if I'll be able to get all of the solid triangles out of the same solid fabrics or not.  The goal for this one is to KEEP IT SIMPLE and to GET IT DONE!

Wish me luck with that, since I can't even write a quick and simple blog post...

Since I've rambled on for this long, there's one more thing I'd like to share with those of you who have stuck with this post all the way to the finish line:

My son Lars, who just turned 17 (how did THAT happen?!!) the day after Christmas, and my two Rottweiler furbabies, Otto and Lulu, who will both turn 7 years old tomorrow:

My Babies, Minus One: Lulu, Otto, and Lars-Of-Ours
So much love in one picture!  I could just eat them up -- but that would be cannibalism.  Okay, I think we're done here for today.

I'm linking up with:

·       Let’s Bee Social at

·       Midweek Makers at

·       WOW WIP on Wednesday at 
·       Needle and Thread Thursday at
·       Finish It Up Friday at

·       Whoop Whoop Fridays at

·       Off the Wall Friday at Creations:

·       Finished Or Not Friday at


Gayle Bong said...

Yep I love your painterly bears paw quilt. Great fabric. Not to self: use some large scale prints. OOh lala

Gayle Bong said...

I really like your painterly Bears Paw quilt. I must remember to use the large scale prints more often. But I have 3 planned with Kaffe Fasset so I guess I got the idea.

Nancy @ Grace and Peace Quilting said...

We totally had that circular sink in our elementary school, too!!! I can vividly picture your paint story.

Summer Killebrew said...

The Bears Paw quilt is gorgeous! The large print, all cut up, is stunning.

Home Sewn By Us said...

Hi Rebecca,
Wow! I did stick with you through the whole post . . . lots of news in there! First off, I love, love, LOVE your photo of Lars, Otto and Lulu. Fabulous and it puts a smile on my face. I'm sorry you had a fall on NYD and a baking fail! I'm not sure what that means for this year . . . no baking for you and no laundry?! Umm, I doubt that will work. But a finish on Paint My a Story - so wonderful. I really can follow along with your design choices and agree that they are spot on. Oh those other two borders just wouldn't be right, especially seeing the end result with the perfect border first! I am a huge star fan so of course I think the sawtooth stars are a fabulous addition. AND, I love reading about your border production - nice to read and see the perfect end result. Do you not remove the pins as you sew on the border? Just curious . . . Your next project really looks like fun and since you have the ruler it should be much quicker than the aforementioned 3.5 year one, right?! Happy day. ~smile~ Roseanne

Ramona said...

Wow! What a gorgeous quilt! The striped border just makes it. Without that border, this would be just another quilt, but you really kicked it up several notches. Your posts make me smile....I really enjoy your writing.

Jayne said...

Well, your quilt was worth the wait! It turned out beautiful, congrats on the finish! And thank you for taking me down memory lane! I remember those sinks and the stream of water coming down. Yikes...that was so, so long ago!!

Salmagundi said...

Thanks for chiming in on my decision not to spend so much time quilting in 2018. I still feel it is important to accomplish organizational challenges in my life in order to free my brain for the creativity of quiltmaking. Trust me, in that quilting has been an important part of my life for 65++ years; it will not be abandoned for the more mundane aspects of my life. At my age of 79, you begin to think about what you are physically leaving for your children to deal with after you are gone. They will have enough with over 100 quilts hidden in those closets!! I always enjoy your blog, and appreciate your comments. Happy New Year.

the momma said...

You crack me up!! The quilt is fabulous - all those 'globs of paint' really make it sparkle, but even more, I love the story

Happy 2018 ~ Tracy

Lynette said...

Great post - I really love "hearing" a quilt's full story and how it spoke to the maker! We never had such exotic sinks in our schools. :)

Lucy | Charm About You said...

oh I laughed so hard when you found the sink picture!! The bear paws look great and I totally agree that mixing fabrics makes it so much more fun and interesting, as well as unique!

Vera said...

Congrats on long awaited finish :) That colorful borders makes it look great!

Val's Quilting Studio said...

Great knowing how and what inspires you. OH? Love that quilt too...your backing is the perfect compliment!

Gwyned Trefethen said...

Rules are guidelines and meant to be stretched, adapted or ignored. Sure you can fussy cut large scale prints, but as you have proved to yourself in a freeing, happy moment, you can also cut them randomly and come up with quite a charming quilt.

Lynn said...

Oh your paint me a story quilt top is great. And that sink - how amazing to find it. The border is perfect and worth the wait (it's a mulling in your mind process and can't be rushed). Beautiful, look forward to seeing the quilting!

Marianne said...

J'ai beaucoup aimé l'histoire de ce quilt et bravo pour le mélange des tissus

Susan said...

You found the perfect border fabric for your quilt - looks great! Thank you for sharing on Midweek Makers