Quilt no. 017: Redux

I started Redux about a month after I finished Quilt. no 016, back in August of last year. I waded through several issues with several sewing machines, put several quilts in front of it in the hand quilting queue and then spent about 6 months hand quilting it. To say it’s been a long haul for this one is an understatement. It’s my first finish for 2016, despite the fact that we are well into June.

Quilt no. 017: Redux Corner Detail

Being so far removed from the process of piecing the quilt meant that I struggled to write about it, especially since I didn’t take very many notes while composing it. I wasn’t really try to express anything through this quilt; simply trying to parse out what makes the Floating Squares score so successful and how to extend that beyond the basic instructions.

I set myself the technical challenge of working with printed fabric that was originally cut for another project. I avoid printed fabrics in general, as I tend to see fabric as palate of paints and I have a hard time figuring out how to use prints in a way that makes them my own. This printed fabric, shweshwe from 3 Cats by DeGama Textiles, was a generous gift. It felt quite special and I wanted to show it off. To highlight the fabric while keeping with my personal aesthetic, I paired it with white, gold and indigo solids. Safe choices for me but reasonable, since I was exploring something new.

Quilt no. 017: Redux Stitches

I was thinking about scale and value; each “block” has a light, medium and dark fabric, each of which vary in size. As a result, there were many different sizes and shapes of blocks and I used indigo to fill between the blocks while assembling the quilt. I hand quilted it, closely stitching in the indigo to create texture and to further push it into the background. I loosely echo quilted the squares to make them float into the foreground. The binding was pieced from leftover blocks to ensure the visual movement is uninterrupted. The batting, 2 layers of vintage feedsacking I had hanging around, was probably not the best choice for the quilting pattern and technique but it does lend a nice drape and heft to the quilt.

Quilt no. 017: Redux Corner Detail

All of this came together to create a composition that does not let the viewer’s eye rest. The eye bounces around the quilt, unable to pick a spot to land on. It has several distinct patterns that emerge from the piece, depending on what fabric is seen as the primary value. By using such varied blocks, the quilt block is removed from the notion of the traditional quilt grid and assembled into a quilt that is self-similar but unpredictable.

Quilt no. 017: Redux Yellow Square

Redux also set the stage going forward; I found something in this quilt that felt important to continue exploring. I like the lack of central focus, a big change from my previous quilts.While the quilting is simple, it stretched my notion of how the quilting lends to stronger cohesion of a finished quilt. I have always been compelled by using lots of disparate pieces and figuring out how they fit together to make something bigger. This quilt gave me framing for how to do that moving forward.

Quilt no. 017: Redux Away

On Hand Quilting.

I was offered the opportunity to talk about my work and hand quilting at the Front Range Modern Quilt Guild last weekend. It was a fantastic experience for me, as I’ve never really talked about my quilts and my process in person to an audience of more than a few people. The chance to show not only what I do but how I do it was an excellent experience, one that I hope to repeat in the future.

It also forced to me do a lot of thinking about not just about what I do and how I do it but why I do it.

The how is relatively easy to explain now, as I’ve mulled over it a lot in the last few months. You, dear reader, can take a gander at this video my friend Juli Jackson generously put together for me to see how I make those stitches. In the three years that I’ve hand quilted, I’ve logged probably close to 1000 hours of hand quilting. It has become an automatic motion, familiar and comforting. I don’t think about it at all when I sit down to quit.

As you can see, it’s not a typical western style hand stitch (Sarah Filke has a great video on how to do that on YouTube). While there is a rocking motion involved, I’m using more of both of my hands to make the stitch. The dominant hand, my right, determines the length of the stitch on top of the quilt and moves the needle through the quilt sandwich. The non-dominant hand manipulates the fabric and determines the length of the stitch on the bottom. You can see that I tend to go past where I actually want the needle to be and pull it back. I’m working on changing this, as it tends to actually be quite more fatiguing on the hands and arms than it needs to be.

The stitches I make are longer than the spaces between the stitches. This is a hallmark of the sashiko stitch that I taught myself when I first started. The result is a more dominant stitch on top of the quilt and small dots on the back of the quilt with large spaces in between. In the video, I’m using a large needle, thick thread and am quilting through a heavily pieced top, wool batting and a muslin back. I’ve also decided, though much trial and error, that loosely placing the quilt in a hoop is actually a much better way to manage the fabric and my time than quilting without one.

The why, however, has many answers.

The time it takes me to quilt a quilt is significant and it marks that time for me. One of my quilts recounts to me the time in my life that I spent quilting it, taking me back to those details easily forgotten in the present day. It brings back the people I spent time with, the places I have lived and loved, the difficulties and the lessons learned. Hand quilting helps me see where I have come from.

It reminds me that my creative work is a slow, on-going process that doesn’t need to be done for the sake of getting something done. It is not a race but a meandering stroll. It is meant to be revealed in, savored, enjoyed.

It forces me to accept that perfection is unattainable and that moving forward is better than dwelling in the imperfections. There is beauty in each and every single stitch, even when they aren’t all straight or even. I can strive for good craft but perfection is something that isn’t useful for me.

As someone who isn’t particularly inclined to mark making with traditional methods, my stitches are the marks my hand makes.

I also hand quilt my quilts because it helps me direct my anxiety into something productive. It engages the resulting Obsessive Compulsive behavior that I have used all of my life to cope with it. The repetitive motion has become woven into my muscle memory and is a mindless yet engaging way to spend time that would otherwise be idle. By channeling that otherwise destructive and previously crippling behavior into something productive, I take all of the Really Bad Shit and make something I actually want to put out into the world.

Here’s the thing: I have accepted the reality that I will never be the finest hand quilter in the world. I make stitches that are my own, a culmination of my own trial and error. I won’t be making the 10-13 stitches per inch that traditional hand quilters’ tend to use as the mark of “good” hand quilting. My goal is make something that is solely my own, to put original work out into the world that isn’t dependent on an pre-established notion of “good” and “bad”.

Quilt no. 014: Denim Scrap

Quilt no. 014: Denim Scrap Quilting Details

My last finish of 2015, Quilt no. 014, feels like an obvious but useful metaphor for this past year: start in one place and end in a different, unexpected place. I started piecing this quilt in February while we were living in the mountains, surrounded by pine forests and snow drifts six feet tall. I finished it while living in a small apartment in a small city in northern Colorado, surrounded by things like modern conveniences and paved roads.

Quilt no. 014: Oblique

My approach to composition and piecing has changed pretty significantly. I’ve moved away from central composition, from minimal color schemes, from quilts that feel emotionally removed. I have been more compelled towards making that feels a little more urgent, more complicated, more layered, more reactive. The pieces that I have been working on the last few months are wildly different than this quilt.

Quilt no. 014: Quilting Details

No. 014 was made from 1.5″ wide scraps from no. 013, which I didn’t get to photograph before handing it off to it’s new owners. The first incarnation was actually suppose to be a rag rug, which is part of the reason the strips are so tiny. I also wanted to include as much of the details from the pants, including hems, pocket details and worn areas. It ended up giving this quilt serious texture and variety.

I chose the yellow thread as a nod to the traditional yellow linen thread used on jeans. The quilting design compliments the piecing, without mimicking or overwhelming it. The back is a bright red brushed twill. I skipped the batting to save my fingers while hand quilting; it made stacking the fabric on the needle a breeze. It’s quite large, 76″ x 76″, and as one can probably imagine, it’s got serious heft. Despite this, it’s remarkably soft and pliable. It makes a great noise when unfurled and snapped in the air.

Quilt no. 014: Denim Scrap Detail

It’s not a fine quilt by any stretch of the imagination. Very few of the points match, the hand quilting is a bit sloppy and I didn’t even square it off, for fear of trimming off quilting knots. It won’t be in any shows. It might spend part of its life hanging in my living room to make the space less generic. It would probably make a great picnic or beach blanket.

Quilt no. 014: Denim Scrap Corner Details

Like the year this quilt was made in, the details are less than perfect but from far away, it’s a pretty good one.

Quilt no. 014: Denim Scrap Wide