09 Feb

Improv Handbook: The Process

Last year I volunteered to be a test quilter for Sherri Lynn Wood’s upcoming book The Improv Handbook (it will debut at QuiltCon and be available through Amazon on March 17th). What appealed to me in Sherri’s proposal was that the book would not have specific how-to patterns, but would inspire makers to create their own designs based on inspirational “scores.” Examples in the book were to be in a range of styles and experience levels. Ultimately, my quilt did not make it into the book, but I thoroughly enjoyed making it — and only wish I had had more time to commit to the process because the more I worked on the score, the more options emerged. I could have easily made three quilts from the ideas that were spurred by the prompts in the Flying Geese score I was assigned.

So, here’s a glimpse of how I made my quilt “Nene” (named for the state bird of Hawai’i which happens to be a type of goose).
The begining
I chose fabrics based on a favorite painting in the room where I was likely to use the quilt.

Kunia Painting



Sewing a Flying Geese block
Then I made a bunch of flying Geese blocks (without measuring or using rulers).


Flying Geese block
What if I stretched out the proportions?


Improvisational Flying Geese
What if I “outlined” the geese? I really wish I had made a bunch more of these. As I ran out of time, I wanted to make a whole quilt with just this style block.


Flying Geese blocks
I made lots of geese.


Improv Flying Geese blocks
I made so many that I had lots of leftovers.


"Nene" in progress
I started out thinking I might make an abstracted version of the landscape in the painting.


Improv Dutchman's Puzzle block
But I made some Dutchman’s Puzzle blocks and liked where that was going.


"Nene" quilt in progress
They looked pretty good alternating with solid color blocks. That might be too tame though.


"Nene" quilt
Ultimately my quilt became something between the two ideas. Clusters of more complicated blocks, surrounded by larger swaths of fabric, vaguely reminiscent of a landscape.


“Nene” detail.

I have not seen The Improv Handbook yet, but based on my experience as a test quilter, I am very much looking forward to seeing the final product. I wish Sherri all the best and hope that her book is a smash hit at QuiltCon!


02 Dec

Homes for the Baby Quilts

I got my quilting into high gear last week and finished three baby quilts in time to send them off to the Quilt Study Center in Nebraska to be donated to the People’s City Mission. They need quilts of all sizes and styles so it seemed like a super match for my happy little quilts. I hope they will help keep some kids warm this winter.










And guess what, no puckers! I have had issues in the past, but this time I starched the backings and used spray baste for the back (but not the top). The biggest factor was probably that I was using cotton backing instead of puffier wool though, so I’ll have to try wool again before proclaiming victory over the pucker, but for now I’m happy.



13 Aug

Zeitgeist at the World Quilt Show



This is the weekend! See Zeitgeist in the cloth at

World Quilt Show New England

August 15 – 18
Thursday, Friday, Saturday from 10am 0 6pm
Sunday from 10am – 4pm

At the Radisson Center of New Hampshire
700 Elm Street
Manchester, NH 03101


There are lots of other special exhibits, and vendors at the show too.

Unfortunately, I’m not up for the long drive to get there, but hopefully some more notheasterly friends and family will go be my stunt doubles.

26 Feb

What is it? And does it matter?

This is going to be quick and dirty and kinda rambly because I’ve already wasted enough time on the computer and MUST get back to my knitting. (No really, I’m totally obsessed with knitting a shawl because I’ve already finished knitting it, but knew I could do better so I frogged it and started over and now must play catch-up with myself.)

Portfolio Books
(My portfolio books, because even I can’t define what I do)

I’ve been following blogs, emails, and Facebook posts of reports from QuiltCon this last week and I’m trying to wrap my head around it. It seems that there was a lot of discussion over the definition of Modern Quilting. On the one side was talk about what it isn’t and on the other is very cogent thoughts on what it could be if we’d get beyond the defining. Then there’s reactions to what was shown there: all too similar? too quilt police-y? not enough quilt police? not appropriate for the context?

I wondered then, does all this questioning and defining happen at the “regular” quilt shows? I had to ponder for a moment because I’m closer to that world and therefore a bit immune to it. Yes, there is far too much defining going on at the usual quilt shows too. The big one is whether one came to see art quilts or bed quilts and why are there art quilts anyway? Then there’s the unending discussion online of what is and isn’t art when it comes to quilts. Are photos on fabric art? why isn’t pictorial more accepted in the art quilt world? why are viewers so attracted to the pictorial and don’t “get” the abstract quilts? can one make art quilts with commercial fabric?

I remembered when I followed the crafty blogs and how it seemed that there was a formula for that too (something involving toddlers, robin’s egg blue studios, and book contracts). Is all this defining, labeling, and putting in boxes a female thing? Maybe just a human thing.

Why do I even care? I care because it makes me think about my own work and how I fit in. I am inspired by traditional quilts — that’s where I started. I am inspired by “maverick” quilts (something along the lines of traditional, but wonkier in construction) — that’s where I jumped over to my art brain. I enjoy Modern Quilts — to me they are an extension of the previous two appealing to a different aesthetic. I am inspired by fine craft (I’ll need to post about the Craft Council show we went to) — I always bow down to superior quality. I get a kick out of bloggy craft — give me a good geeky, meme-inspired, pop culture reference and I’m hooked. I’m inspired by conceptual art — why can’t I think of stuff like that? I love textile art of all types. I will always refer back to my art school training — it’s my foundation.

Given all of these influences, I struggle with where to show my work, or even where to go with it. Crafty blogging didn’t go anywhere. My work looks drab and out of place at quilt shows like IQF Houston where it’s surrounded by jewel tones and sparkle. I’m not interested in having a booth and traveling to art fairs (I’d have to change my work drastically if I realistically expected anyone to buy it for over their sofa). Right now I’m trying the gallery route. I’m excited to see where that goes. So, I follow the conversations in these circles I’m tangentially attached to, looking for a deeper connection for myself. Hoping that somewhere the definitions will break down a little and instead of closing doors between them, we can open doors and appreciate things like the foundations of Modern Quilting being in traditional quilts and that art quilts CAN celebrate the fabric at their foundations.

I’d love to see a show that travels between Quilt Con, IQF and the Mancuso shows that includes Civil War era antique quilts, classic Amish quilts, Baltimore Album quilts, Anna Williams, Gees Bend, Gwen Marsten, Jean Wells, Tonya Ricucci, Bonnie Hunter, Luke Haynes, Nancy Crow, Diane Firth, Wendy Huhn, Pamela Allen, Carole Taylor, Joe Cunningham, Sherri-Lynn Woods, Chawne, Victoria Findlay-Wolf, Jaquie Gering, Thomas Knauer, Ashley Newcomb, and you get the idea… I can connect a thread between all of these quilts and quilters, and I’d love to see others make connections too.

18 Apr


Several years ago, I had a wonderful experience quilting a zig zag quilt top I purchased from fellow quilter Wanda, and gave to my daughter. She’s wrapped up in it with our cat right now.

Just recently, I wanted to make a quilt for my exchange student daughter’s Sweet 16, and zig zags seemed to fit the bill. Even starting this one from scratch, it was a pure pleasure to make.

Zig Zag!

I quilted each colorful stripe with variegated rainbow thread and it blended so perfectly no matter what colors were present.

Rainbow thread for the colored zig zags.

I used wool batting which was light and squishy and lovely to work with.
I love how squishy wool batting makes a quilt.

I received an adorable photo of my “hanai” (adopted in the heart) daughter looking all comfy snuggled in her new quilt, but I can’t get it to post here, so here’s my photo of it before it left home.

Finished Zig Zag quilt

10 Mar

Crafturday (8) with Quilting

I spent my Crafturday piecing. I spent my Thursday and my Friday piecing too. I’m making a quilt for a special young lady who wanted something with a rainbow. So, I decided that a rainbow zig zag with “modern” fabrics would fit the bill. As luck would have it, I was even offered a sample pack of charm squares from Windham Fabrics that looked like they’d play well with what I had in mind.

Sample squares!

I cut 5″ squares from my stash and arranged them in rainbow-ish rows. I had lots of purply reds and greens to aquas, but not much in the way of pinks, sky blues, or blue purples and I needed more white and grey (I’ve actually heard that hard core modern quilters buy these by the bolt!). So I did a little shopping here and in Austin. Stitch Lab is a charming little shop that stocks not a comprehensive collection, but a very nice selection of fabrics that would appeal to the hip sewist, lovely wool felt and plenty of cheerful notions for projects like aprons and bags. But I digress.

Squares ready to start.

I paired one square of each color with a grey or white for the stripe above and one with a neutral for the stripe below and sewed the pairs on a diagonal to make half square triangle blocks.

The cool zig zags

Once laid out on the floor, I could refine my arrangements. The HST blocks definitely look different than the 5″ charm squares without the neutrals mixed in.

Some warm zig zags

Sewing the blocks in columns and rows is easy and it was fun to see the sections grow. The new Cabana Blooms play very nicely with my stash fabrics. And, of course, there’s a bunch of Kaffe Fasset Paperweight in there too (six colorways!). It never ceases to amaze me how well Kaffe fabrics blend with almost everything else.

An interesting aside, I could really feel a difference in weight between the Kona cottons, the Free Spirit and Moda fabrics, and the Windham and Westminster fabrics. For a well used quilt or handbag, I suspect the heavier Kona, Moda, and Free Spirit would last longer, but on the other hand, if I were making wearables, I’d much prefer the drapier Windham and Westminster. I had no problem using the various weights together though, and if a fabric had a color and pattern that I liked I wouldn’t not purchase it just because it’s base fabric wasn’t as thick as something else. It was just an interesting observation I could make because I was using quilting cottons from many sources.

Zig Zag for J

A couple of days collecting and cutting fabrics, and a good solid three days sewing, and I’ve got a quilt top finished!

Zig Zag for J

I think it looks awesome. Now I need to decide how I want to quilt it.

18 Jul

30 Lines Quilt

A while back I participated in the 30 Lines in 30 Days exercise hosted by Melly Testa. When we reached 30 days, I decided that I needed to do something with one of the small compositions to give the project some context. I’m primarily a quilter, so it made sense to translate one of the squares into a quilt.

Upon request, I’ve added more details as to the process.

Lines 14 -- string!
The line painting

30 Lines in 30 Days WIP 1
The fabric version

(I cut one inch strips of black fabric with the grain. I considered bias strips, but decided that the curves weren’t too curvy and I didn’t want that much play. I pinned the strips to my background fabric following the layout of my 30 Lines drawing.)

30 Lines in 30 Days WIP 2
A little further along

(I used a water soluble fabric marker to trace the the center of the black lines onto the other fabrics. I cut away the excess fabric on the lines. Removing fabric required unpinning and re-pinning lines. I’m OK with that, but those who like maximum accuracy would be better off drawing a full sized cartoon on paper and using the paper as a pattern for the shapes — to include seam allowances and marks to match as on dress-making patterns.)

30 Lines in 30 Days WIP 3
More bits

(I randomly sewed together bits of the fabrics in the fashion of improvisational piecing. I sewed some onto my larger solid areas to add interest and a bit of a transition. Other sections are completely little pieced bits. I used the lines and/or the edges of the other pieces as guides for trimming the pieced sections. If the black lines were removed, all the sections would fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.)

30 Lines in 30 Days WIP 4
Just about there

(Knowing that vertical lines would look best unbroken, I pieced the horizontal sections first. There’s a section where I decided I would stop a line early and where one vertical line connects with another — that required a partial seam and then the addition of a few more parts and then finishing off the partial bit. Again, it’s a puzzle.)

30 Lines in 30 Days Finished Top
All sewn together.

(Do other improvisational piecers who use gentle curves clip those curves? I clipped mine before pressing, and though 1/4″ seam allowance doesn’t leave much to clip, I do think it was worth the effort, especially with my non-bias strips.)

30 Lines in 30 Days WIP detail
A detail.

It needs a bit of unpicking and re-sewing to make it all flat and smooth, and then I need to decide what kind of quilting it wants — different motifs in each section, or sectioned straight line quilting a la Lisa Call’s work, or perhaps something I haven’t yet thought of…

10 Jul

Star Baby

I enjoy making baby quilts. They can be anything I want, and they’re not too big — so they go relatively quickly. I enjoy using fun, cheery fabrics I don’t usually use in my artwork, or in decor for our house.

Star Baby

When I found out that a high school friend’s daughter was having a baby, I knew I wanted to make a quilt. Something “fresh and modern.” Here was my excuse to go buy hip fabric! Then I remembered the mushroom fabric I had bought because it was too cute to pass up, and the polka dots I envisioned for an ongoing paper piecing project but that didn’t work as well as I had hoped. Perfect!

Star Baby

I decided that liberated stars would work well with my two fabrics, show off the mushroom print well, sew together easily, and look appropriately happy and youthful. I used the last of the wool batting (that I have a love/hate relationship with) and paid special attention to smoothing, but not pulling, using lots of pins, and keeping my fingers crossed. I removed a lot of quilting, but still ended up with some tucks on the back. Puff and I are just not meant to be. But…. who doesn’t love a light, squishy, baby quilt?! I quilted it in a simple grid to begin with, but then decided it needed some sparkle with silver holographic thread on some diagonals. Then the stars needed outlining. Then more outlining! Now I had too much white grid, so I picked some out.

Star Baby

In Goldilock’s words, it’s just right. Definitely worth the extra time and effort. I think I make nice mitered corners too.

Star Baby