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Quilt no. 016: Floating Squares

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When I left my apartment on a clear Saturday morning, I had only a handful of expectations about Sherri Lynn Wood‘s Improvising from a Score workshop. I decided the night before that my only goal that morning was to show up with my tools and I would go where the day wanted to take me. I had a stressful and trying few weeks prior to the workshop and I just wanted to engage in something that was going to allow me to make something without internal expectations.

Front Details

Sherri’s approach to making and quilting feels really refreshing to me. Up until taking her workshop, I had been wanting to spend a lot of time refining my craft, perfecting my piecing and my hand stitching. I was much more focused on further refining what I already knew, rather than exploring. Her workshop gave me the opportunity to learn how to trust myself a little more, to listen to what my creative impulse drove me towards and that a plan doesn’t need to have a predicted outcome.

Front Details
Something shifted for me that day. I talked in the entry for my previous quilt about the patch work bags I made when I was teenager. Making this quilt felt like that: challenging, fun and engaging. Picking the fabric, using scissors to cut the pieces and fitting them together was a delightful and welcome change to the heavily structured and planned quilts I’ve been making.

Corners
I chose to piece this from different shot cottons, various types of Kona and Bella solids as well as some printed quilting fabrics that where given to me by Jess at Threaded Quilting. There’s a layer of washed muslin between the top and the pieced back, which made the hand quilting quick and easy. At 34″ x 43″, it will make a lovely lap quilt for it’s new home with Hannah Jewell in North Carolina.

Back

While this quilt doesn’t feel like anything I’ve made in the past, it has led me to a new way of piecing that is much more compelling to me. While my meticulous planning led to quilts that met my expectations, it has been freeing to drop those expectations and just make.

Backing Details

Quilt no. 015: Improve Study in Yellow and White Front
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Quilt no. 015: Improv Study in Yellow and White

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After finishing my block for the Denver Metro Modern Quilt Guild’s Twisted Sisters Quilt, I had a bunch of the assigned fabrics and this white on white circle. I dislike letting UFOs sit around and when the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum announced their 25th Anniversary Challenge, I knew what I was submitting.

Quilt no. 015: Improve Study in Yellow and White Detail

Quilt no. 015: Improve Study in Yellow and White Front

With this quilt, I basically just wanted to explore piecing together fabric without meticulously planning the layout. I had a bunch of fun putting together the original block and wanted to continue with it. It brought me way back to the way I used to piece together corduroy and denim for bags when I was around 14 or 15, which was haphazard and aimless, letting the piece of fabric grow and shift until it was as big as I wanted it to be.

Quilt no. 015: Improve Study in Yellow and White Detail

Quilt no. 015: Improve Study in Yellow and White Front

That said, it has led me to a place where I want to do more improv piecing. It’s been interesting to see what comes from intuition and reaction, rather than meticulous planning. It felt much more important when I was first gaining the skills set I needed to make a quilt to have specific plans and measurements.

After taking Sherri Lynn Wood’s improv class in early June and reading her book, I think I’m headed off in a new direction. I’ve always thought quilting was fun but improv piecing feels much more engaging. I’m pretty excited to show off what came from her class and a larger quilt inspired by her Floating Squares score when they are finished.

Quilt. 012: Quarter Square Front
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Quilt no. 012: Quarter Squared

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I like to think of Quilt. 012 as Quilt no. 011’s little sister quilt.  This tiny darling, 30″ x 30″, was constructed entirely from the trimmings and leftovers from Quilt no. 011, because I couldn’t bear to throw away all of those triangles. This quilt taught me how to have serious patience when it comes to piecing. It also taught me that I should be way, way more meticulous when it comes to trimming flying geese blocks. My goal was, honestly, to use up of the leftovers from Quilt no. 011. I bought half a yard of fabric to bind it; everything else was leftovers. The quilting was simple, meant to highlight and complement the visual effect of the piecing. The back is a golden yellow linen look fabric that I bought from Lost and Fawned’s destash sale nearly a year ago.

Quilt no. 012: Details
I like to think it speaks for it’s self, which is part of the reason why I am rushing through the details of the quilt. But also because I’ve got some stuff to talk about.

I spend a lot of my non-quilting time thinking about quilting. Pondering color palates at red lights, turning over ideas about composition while doing the dishes, contemplating my newly discovered interest in improve piecing. One of the things that I keep coming up against is what to do with the quilts I’ve made. Sell them? Give them away? Hold onto them with the hopes that someone will want to hang them in a show?

I don’t know. I freeze up when it comes to figuring out how to get my work in front of an audience and/or monetizing it. I’ve never been compelled by the business of art; I’ve always just wanted to make stuff. My disinclination towards selling my work, in the past, has made me feel like a goddamn failure. I started making quilts because they felt like a purely creative endeavor, motivated by my interest in learning a new skill set and exploring fabric as a medium. Now that I have an ever-growing stack of completed quilts, it’s hard for me to not ask myself what to do with them.

Quilt no. 012: Back

I contemplate selling them, of being the artisan that I sometimes think I want to be. But I get stuck, tripped up in branding, pricing, advertising, doing shows and markets. I don’t know who would buy them, especially not at the price point that would compensate me fairly for my time. I’ve arrived at the conclusion that when it comes to creative work that monetizing it might not be the answer. It’s not that I am lazy. Making for the sake of making means something different than trying to make a product that someone wants to buy. While I wouldn’t mind selling my quilts, I do not want it be my sole goal in making them.

I might end up changing my mind. I do that a lot. But right now, this is where I am.

Quilt no. 012

What has made this last year so good for me, in terms of quilting and creative work, is that I’ve found community to share what I’m working on. When reading about the history of quilts, I was struck by how social it often was. It was something that was I missing. I had it when I was at college and it petered out as everyone went their separate ways. I found it first on Instagram, I recently started hanging out with the Denver Metro Modern Quilt Guild and have met an incredible amount of smart, deeply talented people who’s work is outstanding. I am humbled by the fact that I get to hang out with them. While my life has been kind of a mess this last month, I am looking forward to attending meetings, having some time to sewcialize and hang out with creative folks again.

I feel more compelled to be a part of a community of makers and to find where I fit in to that community. I’m more interested in getting modern quilts out into the world and getting other people’s work seen, both by quilters and non-quilters alike. At this moment in my life, I want to be a part of something bigger than I am, rather than trying to get noticed as an individual. I think it’d be way more rewarding for me to, for instance, teach others or help put together local shows. I’d love to hear your thoughts, dear reader.

Quilt no. 012: Front

Quilt no. 0011: Front
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Quilt no. 011: Fogged

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I am envious of the talented quilters that populate my social media. I see them start and finish quilts and other projects in matter of weeks and months while I am still plodding along in my hand quilting. I pieced 7 quilts in the past 12 months and finished 4 of them. I suspect the remaining three will take me until, at least, October to finish. Quilting is a slow process for me. Hand quilting is about letting time pass without consequence, of having a place to channel creativity, anxiety and perfectionism. It’s about giving myself idle time to get lost in minutiae and detail. It’s about finding calm and quiet in the repetitive motions, about losing myself in work. I feel accomplished and focused when I spend a few hours every day hand quilting.

Quilt no. 0011: Blowing in the Wind

I feel conflicted about my slow, plodding, methodical working process. I feel like I should be churning out work, to get it up and in front of people, to continuously send WIP images to my instagram account. To output for the sake of audience. To have more than one quilt in mind to submit to shows and competitions, to have a choice. I’d even like to be able to see my work evolve faster, to execute my ideas and have them be finished pieces. Despite the fact that I’ve got a bunch of WIPs, I’m still contemplating three more quilts to be made in the future. I’ve got fabric earmarked and piled together, inspiration images pinned, planning vectors half started.

Quilt no. 0011: Front Texture Quilt no. 0011: Front Stitching

Basically, quilting forces me to slow the fuck down.

Quilt no. 0011: Back
Previously, I’ve pieced and quilted quilts according to sections, which is a nod to the Amish quilts I love so much. For this one, I wanted the pieced sections to interact a little more and so I let quilting lines intersect, let others bleed out of their space. I think I was successful in creating more motion in this quilt. It feels less still and static than the others I’ve made.

Quilt no. 0011: Back Detail & Drape Quilt no. 0011: Back Texture

This quilt was made for the sake of making. I wanted to challenge my piecing skills. I wanted to make flying geese blocks. I had a bunch of grey and blue-grey scraps from previous projects that I wanted to use up. I have a thing, a negative thing, about leaving scraps sit around with no purpose, which is also why the back is the way it is. I was thinking about mist, about foggy days. In a Missouri summer, I was longing for a cool, misty landscape. I was thinking about moving to Colorado, about mountains, about craggy rocks and pine forests.

Quilt no. 0011: Front Texture

Quilt no. 010
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Quilt no. 010: Feedsack Scramble

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I don’t really having anything meaningful to say about this quilt, other than the process of making it. It was a fun and quick quilt to assemble and it’s size meant it turned around really quickly. I bought two identical feedsacks at an antique mall in Pennsylvania, way back when Aubrey and I first started dating. Originally for a high protein chicken feed from a company out of Massachusetts, I was drawn to the type faces and the colors. I was thinking about postage stamp quilts, about neat, organized rows when I planned it. I was thinking about mid-century typography and graphic design, modernism and, as always, minimalism.

Quilt no. 0010: Feedsack Scramble

That said, I do have something to say about Completely Cauchy’s navel gazing at small community.

I am largely at the peripheral of the Modern Quilting movement. I don’t have a huge network inside of the small community that does exist and the network I do have is entirely based off of Instagram. This is largely because I live in a rural place and partly because I like community when I can engage with text. I’ve been musing over the conversation around being accepted to or rejected from the show at Quiltcon 2015.

One of things that has frustrated me in finding quilting community was a fundamental lack of constructive criticism. I think a lot of the hurt and backlash from being rejected from QuiltCon was because there wasn’t any feedback given. If the work you are making is largely self-propelled and some what insular, it is hard to receive feedback. If the only feedback you’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive and then you are rejected from something that is propelled by the community you are part of, it feels really personal. I think being able to make a space to talk about work and give constructive criticism would be really great way for individuals and the movement alike to grow. Teaching one another both to see the successes and short-comings of the work we are making was fundamental in my growth as a maker.

Quilt no. 0010: Feedsack Scramble

Social media has made connection much easier, which is awesome. It’s awesome being part of something where everyone is each other’s cheerleaders, where we are collectively inspired by each other’s work. I believe it is part of the reason that I picked quilting back up; I wanted to make and be surrounded by people who make for the sake of making. The community around quilting, both now and historically, has largely been an organic thing. It feels the opposite of my experience in the fine art world.

One of the first things I learned in school was that I was part of a tradition. In order to move beyond what had already been done, it was imperative to learn the history of the medium and to refine craft.

After returning to it from a decade of hiatus, I approached quilting in the same way that I was taught to approach photography. The first book I read was Quilts in America. I come from a family of women who sew and quilt and grew up and lived in an area who’s quilting history has been extensively researched. My main inspiration is the Amish quilts of Lancaster county. I approach quilting with the idea of using stuff that has outgrown it’s use as one object but can be remade into something new and useful again.

Quilt no. 0010: Feedsack Scramble

I don’t think the modern quilting movement is a-historical, like Joe the Quilter says. I have seen far too many clever takes on traditional work for me to believe that most modern quilters don’t know their history. A lot of modern quilters are working from another place of reference; from fine art, modern graphic and industrial design. Even if one isn’t away of it, we live in a postmodern world where things are appropriated and mixed up and re-appropriated.

I see parallels between the criticism of modern quilts and studio quilts, when they exploded in the 90’s. When one group of makers tells another group of makers what they’re doing isn’t quite right, it does NOT foster community between the new and the old. It drives a wedge between them. I have reverence and respect for the hundreds of thousands of quilters that have left behind incredible work. I think inviting mixing between traditional quilters and modern quilters, to let the lines blur, has the potential to pass knowledge around in a circle, rather than in a line.

Quilt no. 0010: Feedsack Scramble

Similarly to what has happened with quilting through out history, modern quilting will be another movement and another means of making quilts. I think it’s harder now to have that perspective because it feels we are living in the future. The western world lives at and in the forefront of technology in a way that has never happened before. Quilters are making their own archive with every single blog, instagram, reddit, facebook and twitter post. Quilting in the 21st century may look very different then it did in the 18th, 19th and 20th century but it is still the same at the core.

The purpose is to make, to create, to construct something with one’s own hands. Regardless of intention or aesthetics, to quilt is act of self-expression.

Quilt no. 0010: Feedsack Scramble

Right of Way.
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Quilt no. 009: Right of Way

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I pieced and basted Right of Way in a second floor bedroom space, in an old house facing railroad tracks. Trains would pass by once or twice a day, making the single-paned windows vibrate and shake, the whistle loud and persistent. The staggered rail fence blocks felt like the clack-clack of train wheels on the tracks as they rolled through town.

Quilt no. 009: Detail

I had originally intended for this quilt to be my entry for QuiltCon 2015. I decided about half way into quilting it that wasn’t going to happen. The backing ended up being much harder to quilt that I originally thought and I was unhappy with the inconsistency of my stitching. I had imagined it to be much more carefully put together then this and I wasn’t really willing to put it up for judgement when it didn’t really meet my own rigid standards. I am my harshest critic, after all.

Quilt no. 009: Back with Binding

I pieced the blocks from Kona broadcloth, the strips were samples that I had ordered for another project and didn’t need anymore. There’s some vintage heathered blue cotton in there, a bit of fabric from my grandmother’s fabric stash. The backing is pieced from vintage brushed denim that I bought from a stash sale at a quilt show in PA. It is lovely and soft to the touch and gives this quilt an excellent weight and drape.

I had to leave that quiet space long before we ever left Missouri. I was upset and distraught that I was forced to give up the work space that was keeping me sane during a sticky Missouri summer, during a shitty 10 months of my life. In retrospect, the cool blue and grey and the simple quilting of this quilt was an answer to the chaos that I was living in, to the oppressive heat.

Quilt no. 009: Front

Quilt no.008
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Quilt no.008: White on White Four Patch

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Quilt no.008

I finished my 8th quilt about a month and half ago and had spent the last few weeks contemplating how exactly I was going to photograph it. The last two quilts I’ve posted I haven’t been super thrilled with how the images of the quilts came out. They were rushed and not very thoughtful. I wanted something different with this quilt because I am quite pleased with how it turned out. I asked my close friend, Juli Jackson*, to help me figure out where I could photograph it while I was visiting her in Arkansas. She came up with a few great places but I was taken, particularly, by the texture of these ancient galvanized steel grain bins. She was generous in indulging and assisting me in the midday heat and humidity of northwestern Arkansas.

Quilt no.008: Details

With the exception of a few key mentors and endless Google searching, I’m largely self-taught when it comes to quilting. Every single quilt I make I learn something new, figure out a better way to do something and stumble through new processes and techniques. Since the other two quilts I’ve finished recently were very simple in their piecing, I wanted to go try doing something very traditional and simple. I thought the four patch block complimented my stash of vintage cottons pulled from feed sacks, pillow cases and nightgowns would create texture while sticking to the minimalist, old-but-new aesthetic I strive for. The hand-dyed border fabric, a gift from my aunt, added contrast without overwhelming the center square.

Quilt no.008: Stitches

The quilting design was inspired by Maura Grace Ambrose’s Idaho Quilt. I carried over the diagonal quilting from the center square into the compliment border to add more movement without making things too disjointed.

Quilt no.008: Back

I pieced the back from broadcloth cottons (the gold a gift, again, from my aunt; the grey KONA cotton in Ash) and this fabulous vintage camera print fabric that was a Christmas gift from my mother. I liked it so much I photographed it as much as the front.

Quilt no.008: Back Details

 

Overall, I’m really quite content at how this quilt and the images of it came together. I’m further on in my quilting journey at this point but I feel like this one got at something I’ve been striving for. I’m looking forward to working in this palate again, once I get my hand quilting queue freed up a little bit.

*Also: she’s a super talented indie film maker. She finished her first feature film, 45RPM, last year. It’s a lovely little movie and if it’s in your area, you should go see it.

 

From Above
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Quilt #007: Low Contrast Log Cabin

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Part of the process of learning how to do something new is accepting the fact that sometimes what you make sucks. This especially important in the creative process, I think, because it is a push forward towards being better at the work you’re trying to make. As Ira Glass has said, this is because of the gap between our skills and our taste.

I began to quilt because I needed to learn how to do something new that inspired me towards making stuff. Photography, while it is fundamentally important to my creative process, stopped feeling like a challenge. Right now, it feels like I know how to make the images I want to make. It feels like second nature. I was also tired of working in pixels, my final product a digital file on someone’s screen. It felt really disposable. Without the time I was putting into the process and final product, it felt just too easy.

Corner Detailing

I had so much trouble with this quilt and I fucked up in all the ways one could fuck up. Let me tell you, dear reader, about them. The initial measurements from my vector files were wrong when I planned the quilt. Because of this, I didn’t order enough fabric. Piecing took twice as long as I wanted it to. I didn’t order enough of the backing fabric and so I had to (again!) add more fabric to the backing after it was basted. The back was puckered when it was basted together. Putting the binding on was time consuming and I had to do three times before I got the damn thing right. I washed it and wasn’t happy with the way it looked when it first dried.

Corner Fold

Despite all this, making this quilt made the transition between my life in Pennsylvania to my life as it has been in Missouri much easier. It’s been a thing of consistency, comfort and escape. Quilting it let me relive the day I had a few of my favorite people over from my job at the farm. We laughed and ate together, something that we had did a lot of over the 9 months we knew one another on a day to day basis. It was a really great way to say good bye to some of the people that, despite the short time span of our community, are some of the best people I’ve worked and hung out with. Reliving that time in my life and remembering those people helped ease the general malaise and depression of living in the aftermath of a decision of questionable merit. It helped remind me that everything is temporary, even bitter cold winters, disagreements, disappointments and broken hearts.

Stitching Details

I made this quilt for Aubrey and I, as a housewarming and wedding gift for us. The pattern is a traditional log cabin (variation called rooftop, I believe) and like Quilt #006, I kept with the centered piecing and heavy sashing that I like so much from old Amish quilts. The center of the log cabin pattern is said to represent the hearth of the home and red felt like a good accent to the charcoal and not-quite-black-not-quite-blue of the color scheme. We’ve been married just over a year at this point (May 1st) and I finished it before the month was over. I put it on our bed the same week that he accepted a new job in Boulder, Colorado.

On The Bed

These events are largely serendipitous of one another. But having such a creative and meditative outlet kept me sane during months of my life that have been fraught with conflict, fear, sadness, anxiety, doubt and stagnancy. It let the bad stuff recede into the background for a little while. It’s not perfect but it’s imperfection allows it be useful. I’m less concerned about it being clean and free of dog hair and more interested in how wonderful it is to sleep under and how it will age.

Small Dog Approves.