Quilts Under Construction

A Year of Quilt Play

Scrap Quilts Under Construction

There I was, going through the mess on the cutting table, minding my own creative mess. Company was coming and tidying was in order. My blue clipboard emerged. This is my all purpose clipboard - it holds the Quilts Under Construction list, it travels with me to gigs for newsletter sign ups, it holds notes and sketches made during classes. It also holds the list of finished quilts each year. For whatever reason that particular list was on top.

4 quilts. And one was a mini. That was the last quilt I finished, back in July.

My first reaction was a bit of sadness and shock. That lasted for about 30 seconds though. I moved on to a bit of anger. How could I only finish 4 in the year?! Just 4! I know why and that is what brings the anger. Chronic back pain since April has meant that basting quilts is out of the question and sitting for long periods of time is also out. I’d always hoped that I could use a rented long arm and get some done but I don’t have the time to do that with our family schedule. All those things combined into anger, full confessions. Let’s be clear, though, not about the unfinished quilts, the anger it about those situations. But that is life and being angry won’t do me any good.

So perspective kicks in. I’ve been sewing nearly every single day this year. Some days only for 10 minutes, some days I get a whole hour. Sewing is what saved me from rage and frustration this year. Sewing kept me sane when pain and stress and constantly moving kept fighting for dominance.

Heather Ross Fabric

I worked on… let me count them… 22 different quilts this year. I feel like it might be more than that, there might the odd day where I played on one random quilt under construction or another.

Some started from scratch, some were old playtime pieces. These became quilt tops:

Improv Curves

Others were just consistent work that will eventually, probably, result in a quilt. Or something I decided to try, just playing.

I played with scraps, sorting and sewing. I taught classes and those samples became something. I tried ideas I had.

Mostly, I created for the sake of it. Sure a quilt at the end is nice, but mostly I sewed for the sake of sewing and what it does for me. Keeps me sane in a crazy, angry, busy, intimidating, and stressful world. Process matter so much more than anything else.

Maybe I will finish more quilts in 2019, maybe not? Either way, I will be sewing.

Quilt Sketch Uppercase Fabric

Little Log Cabins

Little Logs at 16.jpg

Add another project to the Quilts Under Construction List. 

I was tidying up the sewing room a few weeks ago and came across a few little log cabins I made as class samples for my Little Bits class. At that exact moment I had a little time and impulsively sat down to create a few more. And a few more.

The log cabins finish at 4.5'' x 4.5''. I was quite taken with the 4-patch layout so I started sewing them together that way. As I made more I realized this has serious potential as a quilt, not just some scrap play. That means I'm planning for at least 100 blocks, or 400 little log cabins. I try not to think of it that one. One block at a time.  

Logs and scraps.jpg

So it is now a solid Morning Make option. I can make 4 little log cabins in 20-30 minutes. Summer is still lingering here so I've been able to dedicate that much time most days. I'll play with these until I bet bored, then they can be tucked away. No rush, no rules, no pressure. Just play.

Truthfully? Hopefully these will make a dent in the big blue IKEA bag of scraps. We'll see, those scraps are like gremlins, multiplying when you aren't watching! Ooh, that gives me an idea for the name:

Little Gremlins.

From 0 to 125 - A Survey of Unfinished Quilts

quilts under construction sep 2017.jpg

Where do you fall when it comes to unfinished quilts? Earlier this year I conducted a survey of readers on the topic. Everything from true confessions on the number of quilts under construction to attitudes towards these projects.  Over 400 people answered the survey and I am finally able to share the results. My own current number sits at 47. It certainly creeped up this year!

What counts as a quilt under construction? I left the definition of unfinished open, by design. For some people a stack of fabric counts as an unfinished quilt, for others it is a quilt top. I let everyone define that personally. 

Just how many quilts under construction do you have? A few of you have 0, zero! unfinished quilts. A a few of you have over 100 quilts sitting unfinished. Most of you, however, are in the 10-15 unfinished quilts range. 

What I think is more telling is how people feel about their number. I asked people does this number stress you out?

does this number stress you out?.jpg

Unfortunately, it didn't occur to me to have these questions link so I could figure out the statistical correlation (I am not a survey designer by trade). Same goes for the next question, where I asked people how many is too many?

how many is too many?.jpg

In looking informally through all the responses though, it appears (but is not proven) that those that have a higher number don't seem all that stressed by the number. Nor do they think there is such a thing as too many. I have a theory about that. 

It comes down to perspective. If people view quiltmaking as a means to an end - a process by which we make a product - they get hung up on numbers and checking things off lists. Must finish becomes a mantra because their goal is a finished quilt. But if people view quilting making as an end in and of itself - a process that may or may not result in a product - then the number doesn't really matter.

Of course it should be said that at some point the majority of us do want to finish quilts. We are, ultimately, trying to make quilts here. If the emphasis, however, is on the finished product over the process we might as well go to the mall and buy a factory made piece. 

Back to the survery results.

Let's get practical. I asked where in the process do you generally stop working on a quilt? The question about process was left open ended, so the numbers don't add up to 100%. But the results are still telling. 

Hung up at?.jpg

I know, for me, making a backing and basting are my blockades. Quilts pile up there. It seems I am not alone. Those are tedious tasks, no doubt. 

One question and the most popular answer probably tell the story here. The question was asked, what makes you stop working on a quilt?

Overwhelmingly, the answer was what one respondent referred to as Shiny Object Disorder. Something else becomes more inspiring in that moment. Or we get bored. It's pretty simple. Other answers included uncertainty about quilting plans or skill level. And that ever present need to wash the floors to baste a quilt!

I was able to present these results and my take on them in a lecture at QuiltCon in February. For the rest of you who weren't there I am happy to both share the results here and my full take on them in the latest issue of Modern Quilts Unlimited. In the article I defend all these unfinished quilts as markers of creativity. If we take on the Five Ps of quilt creativity we can all see it this way.

  • Perception - how you view your quiltmaking in general makes a huge difference in how you view unfinished quilts, your skill level, and creativity
  • Planning - approaching quiltmaking willy nilly is fine for some, but most of us require a more thoughtful approach to a project and practical considerations of space, time, and money
  • Process - there should be as much joy for you in the process as the product
  • Practicality - how we manage the unfinished quilts in our space and minds
  • Play - bringing that spirit of playful joy to our quiltmaking

Long time readers will recognize these themes from posts. After nearly 20 years a quilter I've learned a few things, and I don't just mean hand applique. When we start our quiltmaking we almost always all start with products in mind. Some of us stay there and some embrace process more. Neither is more right than the other. When it comes to quilts under construction, however, I do need to defend every single one you have as a mark of creative action. Even if it's been years since you touched that project it does not represent a failure, it celebrates creativity! Own it.


Euroa Quilt - An Adventure in English Paper Piecing

Euroa Quilt English Paper Piecing Original

Behold the exciting beginnings of my first English Paper Pieced Quilt! Inspired by a tile floor I saw last year in Australia. It is a running joke among quilters that we take pictures of tiles because they are so inspiring. But I've never actually made a quilt that literal in its interpretation. I am now though.

Because I finished the Park Quilt I felt totally justified in starting this one. Despite my over 40 quilts under construction I've found that I can't have more than 2-3 in the hand work stage. It simply takes up too much time and head space to be fighting among handwork projects. But with my big applique project done I could move on to this one.

Euroa Tile Inspiration for Quilt
Maze and Vale dropcloth

While the inspiration for the pattern itself came from the tile floor, the colour scheme was lifted from another Australian influence. We visited Leslie Keating from Maze and Vale while in Melbourne. Our screen printing lesson was incredible, and her fabrics are dreamy. What I truly loved (aside from the light in her studio and her lovely presence) was the drop cloth on her work table. Periodically she has to switch it out. The old one then gets sold as bits of fabric or dropcloth art. This was the piece I got from her in the sale. Originally I thought I would stitch it up as a whole cloth piece, but once I started down this quilt's path it became integral to the entire thing. It dictated the colours and I am cutting it up, bit by bit, to be included in the quilt.

To start the quilt I drew out the single block pattern in Illustrator. Knowing that I don't work small (when it comes to the size of quilts) I wanted to be able to ensure consistency of the pattern and to make multiples in one go. I am doing English Paper Piecing with my templates, so I print out 4 little blocks at a time on a sheet of cardstock. I could have easily done this with foundation paper piecing on my machine. The pattern works either way. 

Scraps for the Euroa Quilt

The next step was actually picking the fabric. Into the stash I dove! I picked out light and medium greys, a few teals and mints, the two mustard fabrics I had, some light pinks, and various creamy low volume prints. I decided to skip the black and whites, preferring to focus on grey. After I made the first couple of blocks I decided it needed more depth in fabric choices so I did a little bit of shopping. Some more mustards and more white/grey prints. The block results in some interesting secondary patterns. Playing with value or colour can drastically change the way this looks. I decided, however, to keep with the original influence and go completely scrappy.

I have a feeling this messy stack will be sitting on my cutting table for the next year or so.

My plan/goal is to make this quilt 80'' x 80''. I just don't like small quilts. Each mini block is 4'' x 4''. That means I will need 400 of them! I make them 4 at a time. Then make 4 of those and sew them together, calling those a mega block. So I will need 400 mini blocks, or 100 blocks, or 25 mega blocks. Whew. It's scary when you write it out that way. One block at a time. Like any journey that starts with the first step.

English paper Piecing Prep for Euroa Quilt

From start to finish for one block is probably about 2 hours of work. That includes the printing, cutting of the template, picking fabric and prepping blocks, thread basting, then sewing it all together. So far I have never just sat and done that start to finish. This is my one the go/summer sitting/TV watching project so it gets done is spurts and with interruptions. That's the point of a hand sewing project like this after all. 

I am pretty much brand new to English Paper Piecing and jumped in with my own pattern. It suits me just fine. I've poked my fingers and am developing callouses. I am still searching for my favourite needle (small enough but strong enough not to bend). And so far I haven't removed any papers. I'm kind of nervous about that step for some reason. It's fine for now, I have plenty of paper and there is no rush. 

This isn't the first quilt made from this inspiration. Lori made this incredible version after I posted the tile floor while on my trip last year. I posted the photo then went out of wifi range for a few hours. When I logged back in she'd already posted a block she'd made! Her finished mini quilt is awesome! Since I started the project I've had numerous requests for the pattern so I am prepping that to go live in the next couple of weeks. Watch for it. In the meantime, slow down and sew. 

UPDATE: The Euroa Templates are now available.