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Sunday, 28 November 2021

A long time in the making – the Positively Square quilt

I shared the first tentative pics of the making of this quilt back in September 2020, but the inspiration for it is lost in the mists of time. I do remember being motivated to play around with plus blocks when Curated Quilts did a callout for their Plus edition, but the actual specifics of this one are long gone...

Maybe I was on a roll with the denim, as the Laid Back quilt had just come out and I was working on the pattern for the pouffes – there's nothing like a bit of pattern-writing procrastination to get the creative juices flowing!

I turned the underside of the spare room bed into a design wall during lockdown.

Construction of the Positively Square quilt is fairly straightforward (most of my patterns are) and I've written it for both denim and conventional quilting fabrics as well as for with bias tape and without.

I sandwiched my version by tying and then added red hand quilting to match the bias tape (as you can see below), before finishing it off with big-stitch binding in dark blue thread on red fabric.

But enough of my version, let's take a look at what my testers have done with the pattern. I love it when quilters take my patterns and really make them their own, and honestly, I was blown away by all the variations these guys came up with.

First up we have Diana's (@dianavandeyar), which uses solids in a palette that is pure Diana – unexpected but perfect! I'm a big fan of brown and that peachy pink is an all-time favourite. Diana took her own approach to colour placement and layout, but if you're a bit nervous about that kind of thing, the pattern will give you guidance.

Julia's (@cactusflowerfabrics) quilt top below uses a mix of patterns and solids. What I really like in this quilt is the way the blocks move towards being totally solid from top left to bottom right.

The pattern uses a mix of dark and mid tones on light as well as light and mid tones on dark, but of course you can get a similar effect using patterns versus solids, and mix it up a bit as both Diana and Julia have done.

Next we have Amy's (@amyjakobs). While Amy used a tonal approach with the denim, she switched it up by adding the odd green block (also a brilliant approach if you ran out of denim!) and then randomly used green bias tape over the edges of some of blocks (rather than just the corners).

Amy's denim Positively Square quilt with the odd green block

Then we have Vicki's quilt (@vpquilter). She's taken another path entirely and instead of alternating between the solids and patterned fabric to make the blocks, she's always kept the patterned fabrics forming the plus shape and then mixed up the background colours of each block which gives the quilt a completely different look.

Last, but not least is Melissa's (@hovdemelissa). I confess to loving her quilts-in-the-wild pics. There was clearly a bit of wind, but it just adds to the charm of them. Go check out her Insta feed to see the rest. Melissa has made her quilt from upcycled denim, but then used a mix of different coloured pre-made bias tape that she inherited. She was worried that some were different widths to others, but I don't think that matters in the slightest – it's a great overall effect.
Bravo testers! They're such a fabulous bunch of quilts to have showing off the versatility of this pattern – thank you! 

If you have a go at this one, make sure you tag pics with #positivelysquarequilt on social media so we can see the approach you take – I hope you have as much fun with it as my testers and I did.

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Days measured in stitches

My time is currently being marked in stitches and involuntary participation in a strange kind of lottery.

How many pieces can I cut in a day? How many rows can I piece in a day? How many rows can I join in a day? How many passes can I quilt in a day?

It doesn't matter if I'm working on an exhibition quilt, show quilt or gift – it's always the same.

But there's an added novelty this time... Back in lockdown, I'm relying on thread, backing, etc arriving by post to complete quilts, and as any Australian (or maybe even American) will tell you, our postal system isn't coping very well with so many of us at home. In fact, it's coping so poorly USPS has stopped shipping to Australia.

I have two quilts close to finish. One is a finished top, and it has been finished for a good while – backing is its problem. 

Tartan blanket back for the Positively Squared quilt
My new approach to backing the Positively Squared quilt

I want to back it with a vintage blanket, but couldn't find just the right thing online, so a combination of things needed to be ordered – and this is where the postal lottery began. One element was ordered from Perth (the other side of the country – think LA to NYC) and it arrived in three days, the other I'm still waiting for, three weeks later, from another suburb of Melbourne... So, I've changed approach again and I think I like it better – necessity surely is the mother of invention.

The next quilt is close to being a finished top, but for this one, I really stupidly tweaked the design part way through making and was quite literally one hexagon (albeit a rather large one) short in yellow. Can you believe it? This one has been some kind of minor miracle, in that the yellow has arrived a week after ordering (again from Melbourne) along with the most perfectly matched wideback you ever did see!

Pentagram fabric for the Sugarbag quilt back
Could not get a better fabric for the back of the Sugarbag quilt.

So now peeps, you really have to keep your fingers crossed for me that the thread for quilting this one arrives in time. Thankfully the thread for the first was ordered well before the postal system fell apart.

How do you work towards quilt deadlines? Do you plan your time out like me?

Sunday, 22 August 2021

Honouring moments in time

Giant wonky snowball quilt

When my oldest niece, Olivia, turned 13 my sister decided to commission a more grown-up quilt for her. There'd been some bedroom shuffling during lockdowns, and with plans for renovations it seemed a good time to celebrate a milestone birthday with a new quilt.

My brief was this colour palette along with a picture of a doona cover Olivia liked, that featured an animal print. I set up a Pinterest board to share appropriate fabrics with her and got to work on some design ideas.

The shapes in the doona cover were large, so I started off with big, geometric, haphazard shapes. It turns out it was more the fabric patterns and the colours she liked and she needed the design to have a bit of order and symmetry to it. Improv was giving her a headache! We also ended up swapping out the paler, mossy green in the palette with a grey.

Quilt colour palette
Sarah Renae Clark's colour palettes

I tried a few, more orderly designs and we settled on a giant wonky snowball. Something that still had a bit of the unexpected, without going completely random. Next it was time to source the fabric. The first place to look was clearly the stash, but there weren't a lot of dark blue-greens or greys going on here. Certainly not enough to make a quilt from, but definitely a few that could make corners.

Starting the quilt in lockdown last year was a real challenge for a number of reasons. I couldn't see any of the fabrics I was buying in real life, so quite a few things arrived in the mail that went straight in the stash.

Then there was also the struggle to get fabrics in Australia at all. Some of this was due to the pandemic and supply issues, but it also reminded me why I tend to use upcycled fabrics. We get access to such a small range in Australia and the cost of shipping can be exorbitant, so it's best if I don't get my heart set on something I'll have trouble sourcing. I'm looking at you Chalk and Charcoal! Except for a few white/cream widebacks, this fabric was pretty much impossible to get here.

At this stage we're still talking 2020 and as I was in lockdown for about seven months of it, there was no chance I was going to be having guests stay in the spare room. To give myself extra project space I upended the spare bed and used the base of it as a design wall. You'll have to excuse the dodgy photos below, but they were snapped on the iPhone at all hours as I contemplated this quilt.

Liv wasn't really keen on that intense plum colour so it went first. Then I thought it was still too busy with the jade green, so that went too. In the end, it was clear that the large hexagon pieces were going to need to be fairly neutral. It was at this point we were finally let out of lockdown, so I packed the quilt in a drawer and headed out of town.

quilt in progress

Three months later, after a mad dash back to Melbourne before borders shut, I got the quilt out again, this time on the floor – see pic below. I started with all the darkest blocks before filling in the alternating spaces with the mid tones. Then I set about choosing the corner pieces – finally letting those small pops of colour back in. 

Just as I was starting to make real progress on this quilt it got put on hold again as I contracted sepsis and ended up in hospital for a few weeks before starting a very long (and ongoing) rehabilitation. There wasn't going to be any sewing for a while.

After being out of hospital for a few weeks it was clear I couldn't cope on my own physically, so Mum packed me up and took me home to Wagga to recover... For some reason we packed the quilt.

Making real quilt progress

Months passed, and while I wasn't really ready for sewing myself, I knew I could stand long enough to cut fabrics for a while and to iron piecing, so I asked Mum if she'd help me finish the quilt. Thankfully things moved pretty fast from there and we'd decided it would be reasonable to aim to have the quilt with Olivia for her 14th birthday.

We laid the blocks out on a bed so I could reach them more easily and sewed a few every couple of days. It wasn't long before we were getting the rows together and completing ourselves a top.

And all those extra fabrics I ordered? Well quite a few of them ended up on the back, including those extra plum and jade animal prints. I didn't want to do anything too fussy for the back, not least because it would have to be Mum piecing it. It turned out that the black fabric was already cut in strips, leftovers from a quilt my step-Mum made (boy was she a lifesaver with a few spare navy-coloured grunge blocks too!) so that dictated the strip widths around that central fat quarter and we had a top and a back ready to go for quilting.

wonky snowball quilt back

The quilting was done by Sarah from Temora in lightning-quick time and the pantograph is Loophole by Sarah Ann Myers. Mum and I were thrilled with how it turned out. By this time I was well enough to return to Melbourne, and Mum was off on a much-needed holiday, so the binding got done with a bit more of that black fabric, right back where the quilt started.

close up quilting

And the birthday girl? Well by all accounts she's super happy with it too. Mum and I got to see her open it on Zoom – Olivia in Sydney, me in Melbourne and Mum back in Wagga. I love that technology allows you to be there in moments like that even when you can't be there in person. It's so special to be there when someone opens a quilt gift. My sister also text me not long ago to say that Olivia is rarely out from under it, although she had finally left the house after a few weeks (they're in lockdown now too) but had only gone as far as the car, and the quilt had been taken along too :-) As long as it's loved, then it's all OK with me! 

In a bit of a postscript, I had decided sometime during 2020 that I would try and use scraps from projects straight after completing them, as I thought it would be good improv practice, but also give me smaller pieces to show when opportunities arise... I often find myself without appropriate works for local art shows. So, with this in mind I started with the scraps of Olivia's quilt. The dark colours spoke to me of the difficulties of these last months and I added in some bright spots of gold to remind me of better times; of much care and kindness shown; of days without pain; and of finding light in the darkness. Meet 'Phosphoresence'.


Sunday, 27 June 2021

Starting with a block

Folded Lockstep quilt

The Lockstep quilt was a bit of an experiment for me. I started with a traditional block and a grab bag of upcycled shirts and a doona cover. If I'm honest, I knew I didn't have anywhere near enough fabric to finish the throw size I was planning, but I went ahead anyway...

Handful of fabrics for the Lockstep quilt

I also decided I didn't want to cut on the mat, but rather with scissors. Cutting on the mat gives me back and shoulder issues and given I was starting this in lockdown, in winter, without being able to get out and walk much and with no access to my physio, I decided it was better to be safe than sorry. Oh, I didn't bother with measurements much either. Just eyeballed 2 and a half inches and away I went. 

Not enough fabric, no measuring and less than perfect cutting – what could go wrong?

This is where I thought I was headed with the quilt design, but even before I had half the number of blocks required I started running out of fabric. Why didn't I figure out all my yardage beforehand? Do you know, I mostly don't do that when designing. I don't know why. Maybe it's something to do with working with upcycled clothing etc, but maybe I like the challenge of coming up with solutions to those design problems on the fly?

Original Lockstep quilt design

At first I just swapped the colours I ran out of with something similar, as you can see with many of the fabrics in the pic below. A few blocks in I realised I still wouldn't have enough fabric, so I did what I always do when I get a bit stuck and shoved it all in a drawer.

This pic also gives you a good idea of how wonky these blocks are. Just look at those seams around the acid yellow in the top left block – no matching going on there!

Four Lockstep quilt blocks

My next step was to play around with some new layouts on the computer. While I didn't mind the addition of more colours, it was starting to look a bit overwhelming, and the bottom right looked too much like the coronavirus so it got discounted pretty early on. Nothing was quite right for me yet.

Lockstep quilt design options

It wasn't until I took the option below and made it in a few different colourways that I knew this was my most workable solution. Keeping in mind I had one eye on my stash too. Buying more fabrics wasn't something I wanted to do and I quite liked the idea of swapping a few fabrics out if I needed to. 

Final Lockstep quilt design

colourways for Lockstep quilt
Things moved quickly from here. I ended up using three different solid, or read-as-solid bright orange fabrics; there are two different bright blues, though I was able to keep one in Block A and the other in Block B; and I ran out of the acid yellow so replaced it with a darker shade in three of the blocks.

Once all the blocks were complete I had to think about constructing the finished top. Since the blocks were so uneven (as you can see below), I didn't want to trim the down to a fixed size but rather allow some of that wonkiness to continue in to the top construction without it buckling and warping the overall top.
Lockstep finished blocks
To deal with this I lay the blocks out with like sizes near each other and constructed it in sections rather than in rows, trimming blocks and sections as I went to fit the jigsaw together.

I originally had visions of hand quilting this, but since it was due with Make Modern early January that quickly became a fantasy and I sent it off to Leanne at Mount Vincent Quilts instead and asked her to do an Overlapping Crop Circles panto. It was perfect!
Lockstep quilt swirl
So to all those who worry that their seams don't match, or they're not cutting perfectly straight, you can stop stressing right now! I'm so happy with how this one turned out, especially because of its imperfections and I'm looking forward to taking this approach to quilting again soon. It's very freeing, I can tell you.

And my last favourite, wee detail is the bright orange big stitch binding you can see in the pic at the start of this post.
Full Lockstep quilt

The pattern for this throw size can be found in Issue 39 of Make Modern magazine and the throw along with queen size and options for sashing with both (as shown below on the throw size) can be found in my Etsy store. If you're not quite ready to abandon the cutting mat and measurements that's OK as the pattern is written as normal with tips on how to go wonky if you wish.

You can also see Kendra and Michelle's pattern tester versions over on my Pinterest page or by viewing the #lockstepquilt hashtag on Instagram.
Lockstep with sashing

Sunday, 24 January 2021

2020 hindsight – my year in review

Over the festive season I participated in Ruth Singer's 'Gentle Goal Setting' for 2021. Truth be told, I'm still doing it. I was looking for a way to reflect on the momentous year just gone and plan for the year ahead – a process that would focus on my practice and what I want to learn and experience rather than numbers of social media followers, my marketing strategy or giving myself sales targets. 

Wanting to be present with family over Christmas (or as best as I could, after months of isolation) and then having a rather large work contract, means I'm taking longer to complete my planning, but being gentle with myself – as the process suggests – I'm OK with that.

1974 quilt machine and hand stitching
Detail of '1974', based on the stripe of a childhood jumper. Hand pieced, hand and machine quilted.
Looking back on 2020, the first thing that struck me was the number of rejections I got. Don't all rush to commiserate – I was also accepted for a lot of things and was given some wonderful opportunities out of the blue. Plus, I'm very good at giving myself a moment/day to be disappointed and then moving on – maybe I should give lessons? Seriously though, I applied for a LOT of things in 2020 so there were bound to be downs with the ups. 

Some of the rejections were for things I really wanted to do and others were about me supporting the organisation with my entry fee. Sometimes I didn't have the right work, even if I did want to participate. Some opportunities, once they were actually released, turned out not to be what I thought they were, and some I don't think I was quite ready for. Part of my reflection will be to go back and look properly at those rejections, to see if I can learn some more about what I should focus my time on. Was it something I really should have been applying for in the first place? Did it fit with the direction I want to take my work? Was my work suited?

Another reflection, came not from the course, but rather a moment just before Christmas, when a Covid outbreak started in Sydney, 11am rolled around for the morning's press conference and I felt a clench of anxiety in the pit of my stomach. It was only then I realised the feeling had been there for most of 2020. Worrying about when we were ever going to get out of lockdown, when I'd be able to see loved ones again, when I was going to get paid work. Of course, bad situations always end, but the lack of human contact I had for so long will take time to recover from, so I need to be gentle with myself there too.

Hourglass block quilt in khadi cotton
An hourglass quilt started during lockdown. Leftover khadi cut with scissors.
There were also two things that resurfaced during this process – things I clearly need to be reminded about, regularly. The first is that I don't like making to deadline. I think it's partly as my whole career has been so deadline-driven, but also because it's clear that I never produce my best work that way. Well not work that completely satisfies me. There are several projects I've walked away from over the last year and then come back to recently and they're so much the better for it. I'm never a great long-term planner, but there are times I think need to start thinking several years' out if I want to have the best outcome. I know for those who make dozens of quilts a year, this might seem insane, but it's just the way I roll.

The second thing that resurfaced is a reminder of what drives my making – authenticity and sustainability; a desire to keep learning; being generous with my time and my creative efforts; and, above all, my making should be a joy. Man, I need to be reminded about this a LOT. Especially when social media is telling me I need to release more patterns, tag or spruik someone's product, have more followers, make more videos bla, bla, bla. While I'm incredibly grateful for the people I've met through Instragram and the support I get – especially last year – this is the downside of social media for me. It's a constant pressure and it's exhausting. In the end, I feel I do make most of my decisions from the place that's driving me, but honestly, regular reminders are good and necessary!

Stack of Stitch & Yarn quilts
Quilt stack of my pattern releases up to mid-2020
So, what are my plans for 2021? Are they gentle? Hell no! They're ambitious as all get-out and way more specific than Ruth is intending, but I come from the school of 'bite off more than you can chew, and then chew like mad'. I will however, be gentle with myself if I don't manage them all, and having some flow into 2022 is also fine with me. My main aim for this year is to release an online course. It's is something I've been toying with for a while and 2020 gave me the opportunity to really work up the specifics. It's called Quilt Design School and is aimed at budding quilt designers – taking you from inspiration to publication. If this is all I manage to do this year, that would actually be OK. If you want to be first to learn more about it, then sign up to my email newsletter (above right) or drop me an email at the address below.

Of course, I also have a list of quilts – from finishing one for my oldest niece through to a couple of exhibition quilts for later in the year and a pattern release or two. There are also applications, but they will be few and far between for 2021, while I look again at where I should direct my efforts. And last, there are steps I want to take towards long term goals... The flipping print table for starters – how many years have I been banging on about that now? 

'Lockstep' quilt, releasing in March 2021.
You know what though? Making quilts isn't saving the world, and no-one will die in a ditch if I don't do any of this, so quite frankly, here's to a year of inspiration, connection and joy in the making! 

So how about you? Did you get a chance to reflect on your work, or perhaps lack of it it, in 2020? Do you have big things planned for this year or are you just going to see what comes your way? Are you feeling wrung out after 2020, or are you inspired, full of hope and ready to dive back in?