Friday, February 14, 2020

making great quilts - quality vs quantity

Hi! Thanks for stopping by today. If you stopped by last week, you might know I am trying to blog again on a regular basis. I will be talking about all subjects that mean something to me or something that I think needs to be addressed in the quilting world.

This week, I would like to address the quality of our work. Great quality quilts take time to make. They require skilled hands, love, attention to detail. If we concentrate too much on the quantity of our quilts we make, the reality is, the quality of those quilts will suffer. We all have a zillion projects that we want to make, but we also need to step back. Do all of those projects really need to get finished? Here are my thoughts about the subject.

If you've been quilting for a year or two, you probably have made your hobby or passion known to others. Do you often get comments to your quilting confession as, "Oh, so you like to cut up fabric and sew it back together again," or "it must be so nice to cut up your old clothes to make quilts." Now, we all know, quilting just isn't that simple, now is it? It is exciting to design a quilt with matching fabric that works well together. So, cutting up old clothes (made from polyesther) really doesn't work anymore unless you have five yards left over from making that Victorian vintage dress, right? Making a quilt, just isn't throwing some old fabric together, sewing a design, throwing in a few stitches to hold it in place (quilting). Oh, no! There is so much more that goes into a quilt.

I am a lover of the entire quilt making process. And even though I joke about not liking to quilt and applque, I really do enjoy them too.

Making a quilt, starting with a design, choosing fabric, cutting, sewing, pressing, fixing inconsistencies, pressing, basting, quilting, binding, all of these processes in quiltmaking require time, patience, love for detail, endurance and perserverence. 

There is no need to rush the process. "Just getting it done" doesn't enter my vocabulary. Most of us quilt for the enjoyment of sewing, of creating something, for the process. Live that moment.

My mother drilled the basic phrase "if you don't do it right, just don't do it at all" into my head. Today, as a grown woman, I understand what that means. Going back and fixing those problems is more of a headache than doing it right the first time. But, in most cases, it has to be done.

This week I was working on small baby quilt. Some of my quilty friends stopped by and called to my attention that the backing fabric had a tuck in it. The quilting crossed over that tuck. Now, we can't have that, now can we? I made a mistake. No big deal. It just needed to be corrected.

I didn't make a big fuss about picking out the stitches, tying off the threads, and requilting those areas. It just needed to be done. In the end, no one will see that I took out the stitching. They will only see the final product. Those repairs will be forgotten. So, a well-made product stands out as just that. If I had left those mistakes in, they would have been seen.

Let me dig out another photo. When I was working on a demonstration quilt for a quilt-as-you-go class, I was trying out different techniques. My log cabin strips got a little wonky in the end and ended up with a VERY scant seam allowance, so much that it popped open upon inspection. Since then, I have found that sewing the log cabin counter-clockwise prevents some of this from happening.

As you can see, the binding was already on, so I just bit the bullet and fixed it. You will only see the mistake if it stays in. It just wasn't acceptable. It wasn't good quality. I can do better than that.

I have found in my own sewing, when I am anxious or in a hurry to get something done, it just doesn't work out. More mistakes happen. So, if I don't feel the balance in my own spirit, I step back and leave the process for another day. There is no need to put myself under pressure.

The first fifteen minute of sewing are usually for the birds. Most mistakes happen in those first few minutes. I've learned to just accept it and laugh.

Unless there is quilting with a deadline - birthday, anniversary, publication, holiday, there really is no need to hurry up and get it done. Take your time. Enjoy the process. Creating a quilt is time intensive. Allow yourself to take your time. Have you every calculated the amount of time you actually put into a quilt? You should! You would be surprised just how long it takes. But think of the quality of the quilt as your legacy. You will be remembered for your work, your creations, your contributions. If you create beautiful work, you will be remembered for that.

This week I dropped in to hear the podcast from Quilting Daily with a special guest star Kim Niedzwiecki of gogoKim. She was very inspirational and stated something that should be addressed.

"Don't compare yourself to others." Kim Niedzwiecki

We are all at different phases in our own personal quilting journey. There is no need to feel pressured into performing or showing that you made a finished quilt. In reality, it just isn't possible to make a new quilt every week. There are professionals behind those quilts and accounts on social media. Most of us sew our own quilts from start to finish, and that takes time. Enjoy the process. Enjoy the journey. Don't get caught up in trying to impress others.

To be honest, I used to love showing in-progress photos of my creations on social media but didn't get as much of a reaction to them as to finished products.Finished quilts got the most likes. I was pushed by the recognition of likes. It took me a while (several months) to step back and rethink what I wanted from social media. I am in search of dialogue, interaction, community, support, education. I see in today's world with social media, we need real-life, in-person interaction more than ever. Interaction is more important to me than a like.  

Sorry, I think I went off on a ramble there. When making a great quilt, it is important to take the time to care about each step of the process. Don't rush through. Do the best that you can. Show what you have learned and show how much you care about the person you are making the quilt for. Those are your stitches of love!

How many quilts do you need?

This is a very good question. I am a quilt designer, so I have a couple more quilts at home than others. But there are probably no more than 20 quilts (not including minis) in my household even though I have made hundreds of quilts. A lot of quilts were made and gifted out of love. Do we need more quilts in our household. No, I don't really think so. There are still a couple of quilt tops in my cabinets. I've been seriously wondering what I should do with them when/if quilted. I am thinking about donating them for some type of raffle or giveaway for a humanitarian cause to raise money, seriously! How many quilts do you have at home? Do you gift your quilts? Do you make and donate? What do you do with your quilts? Do you finish your projects or is learning the technique more important?
I love trying out new techniques but don't need a finished quilt, table runner, etc. to just to "get it done," either. It doesn't need to be finished. I learned from the process. I learned to improve my technique. I prefer to make a quilt for someone who needs, cherishes, and uses the quilt.

We are so fixated on trying to outnumber, outdo, outperform, we feel compelled to increase our own productivity. In my opinion, increasing productivity usually decreases quality.

As I get older, I am asking myself these questions more and more. Maybe it is a midlife crisis, maybe I am just getting older. I think when we do something or make something, we need to think about the why's how's, if's, and or but's. We need to think about the ramifications of our actions and intents. We all have become just too self-centered and egoistic. It is time we give back to our fellow (wo)man.

"We are not the center of the universe," as quoted by Joaquin Phoenix at last week's Ocar Awards.

I will now get off my soap box and extend my hand to you. What is your opinion? Did I strike another nerve or can you follow along? We would love to hear what you have to say. Please leave your comments below. Thanks and have a great weekend.

My next post will be about eco-friendlier sewing.

Friday, February 7, 2020

modern vs traditional quilt designing

Hi everyone! Thanks for joining us today. I've decided to start blogging (on a regular basis) again. I would like to share my knowledge and experiences for those of you who wish to learn, experiment and better your own quilts. Here is one of my first Quilt Editorials for 2020 - #queditorial.

I would like to share with you my approach to modern vs traditional quilt designing.

As you might already know, I actually design a little bit of both. Although I truly classify myself as a modern-traditionalist, some others see me as a modern quilter. Where's the difference you ask? That's a tough question for me to answer. I don't think I can answer that. I don't really see where the difference in the two.

As defined by the Modern Quilt Guild (MQG),

"Modern quilts are primarily functional and inspired by modern design. Modern quilters work in different styles and define modern quilting in different ways, but several characteristics often appear which may help identify a modern quilt. These include, but are not limited to: the use of bold colors and prints, high contrast and graphic areas of solid color, improvisational piecing, minimalism, expansive negative space, and alternate grid work. "Modern traditionalism" or the updating of classic quilt designs is also often seen in modern quilting." (

"So how is that different from traditional quilts?" That's my question to myself.

In my humble opinion, traditional quilts are very much functional, use high contrast, are graphic (almost every block uses some type of geometry) and some traditional quilts even use improv piecing (Gee Bend). What seems to be rather different in modern vs. traditional to me is the use of minimalism, negative space and bold colors. 

Let's take a look at those three points in more detail.
  1. The use of minimalism to create artistic designs is a key point in modern quilts. That's just it - art designs. If you approach a quilt design as a piece of art, you might start with an empty canvas. From there, you build up your artwork and layers of fabric. And, although many misinterpret minimalism as art from a five-year-old, a very successful and minimalistic quilt uses a lot of elements the untrained eye does not see, especially the use of quilting to make a second design especially playing on the piecing or original design itself.
  2. With more and more of long arm quilting machines hitting the mainstream market in the late 1990's, the use of negative space, which highlighted the quilting, jumped to the forefront adding to wonderful new styles in quiting. This allowed the use of negative space to take center stage in many modern quilts. Piecing, was once again, pushed to the second row of the quilt designs. Remember, whole cloth quilts in the 1930's? They also had an enormous amount of negative (light) space that was hand quilted.
  3. Bold colors in quilting fabric became readily available in the late 1980'-1990's. This is a moda and cultural trend in society. If you look at different periods throughout history, the fabrics and their luminosity changed over the last century. My mom's quilts used a very soft pastel mauve and blue which were very trending in the 1980's.There were many bright, almost neon prints in my early children's quilts in the late 2000's. At that time, you either found the "traditional" muddied reproduction fabrics or the bright, children's prints. The use of use contrasting, complementary colors or fabrics with varying values (light, medium, dark) will allow a quilt to sparkle. 

I've heard some say the difference between modern and traditional quilt is just the fabric used. Muted small prints personified the bi-centennial quilt revival movement in America (1975-1985) which a lot of people associated with traditional quilting while graphical designs in bold colors represent modern quilting.
So, for me, the difference between modern and traditional quilts is, quite frankly, the purpose. Is it to be seen and appreciated as art or used as a utility quilt? Here is my approach to each one when designing quilt patterns for each classification.

Modern Quilt Designs

When designing a modern quilt, particularly like the one above, I start with an empty canvas. I am free in my designing process. I add elements (usually graphical in nature) to the blank page and move, add, delete, change the elements until a pleasing design emerges.

This design, as well as most of my designs, was designed with Electric Quilt software. The quilt was designed in the custom set layout which allows you the freedom to really build layers of artwork. It allowed my to rotate my strips 45° with easy and place exactly where I wanted to on the canvas.
I am not plugging this software but mentioning it in case you were wondering. Some prefer to use Adobe Illustrator, CAD or even draw their own designs with pencil and graph paper. Use what you feel comfortable with, have access to and can afford. I bought the software at the EQ5 version and loved using it ever since. I would call myself extremely proficient, but there are still so many things to learn with this program. I have not found a limiting factor with designing with it yet. It is not perfect. There are some glitches, but it works well for me.

Then, the practicality and sewability start to jump in the design. Are those real words?? Is it possible to use a precut in this design? How would I sew it together? Is there a simpler way to sew it together? What are those angles? Are they standard angles listed on a quilt ruler? Would the intermediate quilter know how to use her ruler to cut those angles? Is there too much scrap fabric in this design? Which direction should those squares be pressed? Can this design be strip pieced? Those are just a few questions a quilt designer thinks about when desiging his pattern before writing.

Probably the last thing I put into a design is the fabric. What fabrics and color will allow this design to work? Does it only look good with the colors it was designed or can the colors be changed? I prefer to give more choices to the quilter. We all have our own tastes when it come to color choices and palettes.

Also, does the design work with prints as well? Does it work with large and medium scaled prints?

With this particular quilt design, I should have had it long arm quilted to really allow the quilter to accentuate the design. I chose to quilt the quilt myself instead and decided to play with the angles of the strips. I don't see organic quilting in this design, but who am I to say what is right? There are so many fantastic (long- arm and domestic machine) quilters out there who create masterpieces.

The above quilt measures 30" x 40". It was originally designed in 60" x 80" using precuts. It was published in Quiltmaker's Spring 2017 under the name of Pixelated. I had the pleasure of sewing this quilt and quilting it myself. I just love the beautiful photo the magazine made for their publication.

Quiltmaker Jul/Aug 2017 - "Pixelated"

UPDATED: This pattern is still available from Quiltmaker magazine. Click on the photo above.

I even made a smaller 1:2 version measuring 15" x 20". I would love to have an entire mini collection of my own designs.

Traditional Quilt Designs

When designing a traditional quilt, I change my thinking process. I start with a predefined canvas size and layout. Although, it will usually stay a rectangle or square, I think about the size for a usable quilt. What size would that be? It is for a twin, queen, king or a throw quilt? Is this quilt for a baby? Do I want to teach something with the design? Should it be simple? Do I want to show off a fabric line? Can you use precuts? Do you need a large border to fill the design to the requred size? I ask myself more practical question in the beginning. I start with contraints.

Let's look at my sampler quilt. The easypatchwork Advanced Sampler was designed to teach me all different techniques that you should learn about quilting from applique to curved piecing. I wanted to make 12", standard size blocks but also wanted to limit the number to a 3 x 4 grid. That meant I needed to push the design with border strips and sashing. I decided to go extra large on those, because it was supposed to be our bed (queen size) quilt.

I am also not very fond of sampler quilts, because a lot of them are just too unorganized and not uniformed for my taste. I love a balanced design which it hard to achieve with samplers. For sampler quilts, I think reducing the fabric palette to a limited number of 3-4 works best for a more uniformed look. Now, a sampler quilt is very traditional, is it not? Would you consider this a traditional or modern quilt?

This quilt started in 2012 and changed several times throughout the making stages. I hardly ever stay with the same design from start to finish. These were my favorite colors when I started the quilt - yellow, turquoise, and orange. I used white to balance or ground the design. In modern quilts, white, black and gray are considered neutrals and will give the eye a place to rest before moving on throughout a design.

With the use of the very large (fussy cut), prints for the corner blocks (Kate Spain, Fandago), it changes the feel of the quilt. Most traditional quilts would also use small scale prints which really sets off the piecing. Solids do the same thing in "modern" quilts as tone-on-tone or small scale, calico prints do. (The terminology has changed.)

When designing quilts, I like to download the swatches of fabric that I would like to use in the real design to see if the scaling of the fabric will really look like what I imagine. I will tweak the design and make fine adjustments on the mockup. When I actually start making the quilt, there is almost always a design change. Either a different fabric gets cut wrong, or it just doesn't feel right or quite simply, I grab the wrong fabric.

Still, would you classify this quilt as a modern or a traditional quilt? There's folkart appliqué, a Hawaiian block, a Mariner's Compass using templates, y-seams but also foundation paper piecing, straight-stitched applique with bias strips, and curved piecing.

There is a lot of negative space in this quilt as well. Does that mean it is modern? What if we look at the design with an additional border and a dark border in place of the white? Does it look more traditional to you now? If you use a muddy brown in a quilt, does it make it traditional? Likewise, if you use white, does it mean it is modern?

I really don't try to fit in one category or another, but the way I design is different. I consider a traditional quilt a quilt that has a purpose, a utility quilt. That purpose sets a framework of the design. A modern quilt, for me, is one that is designed for art purposes - to hang on the wall. There are virtually no limits and start with a blank canvas when designing.

So what do you think? Did I hit a nerve about modern and traditional quilting? Do you differ in opinion? We would love to hear what you think. Please leave a comment below.

Thank you so much for stopping by.