What it really means to PLAY on the design wall

My absolute favourite part of making a quilt is the getting it all to work together part. For me, this means design wall play. Generally, I have a whole bunch of components and have to come to a lay out that I like. It would be different if I planned it all in advance. In that case the design wall would only be confirming what I intended. That just isn’t how I work.

More often than not I start out making a quilt without knowing I am actually going to make a quilt. An idea, a technique, a colour story. Anything can get me going. At the beginning, however, I don’t really know that it is will be a quilt. It is just something I want to try. Even if I have full quilt intentions, I have no idea how it will actually turn out. It could be awful or a different idea can come in to being. What is most important to me is to be open to the process.

Take my most recent project as an example.

I started off making sample blocks to promote my class with Marisa Anne of Creative Thursday fame. The Make Waves block is for the Thursday Club, an online class I taught earlier this month. With waves being obviously blue I made all my samples in shades of blue. Then Marisa suggested that I add in some other colours because not every one likes blue. (I know! Right?)

At this point I had no intention of making a quilt from these blocks. It was just fun times, a good sample. I honestly expected the blocks to sit around for a few years until I rediscovered them and then maybe made more.

Then I saw that yellow block, that pink one, the teal, the blue. I immediately thought SUNSET. More specifically, OCEAN SUNSET.

Make Waves Multi.jpg

And boom! I immediately starting making more and more blocks, picking colours of the sunset. Just running with the idea, no clear plan for a quilt just yet.

After I made a dozen orange and coral blocks I stopped to take stock. What exactly would I need? How many blocks should I make? Am I focused more on the sunset than the ocean now, or vice versa? Deep breath before I dive too deep. So I sketched a picture.

Make Waves Sunset Sketch.jpg

Nothing fancy, mind you. I just coloured the sunset of my imagination. An image search showed many, many variations on the theme of that red/orange sky and a dark foreground. The emphasis should be on the sky, not the water. This led to a more formal plan.

My goal was 2/3 sunset and 1/3 water. Since I’d already started with blocks squared up to 9 1/2’’ x 9 1/2’’ I kept that. If you know me at all, you know I don’t make small quilts, so my finished sized is typically over 80” square. It just so happens that that is the perfect size for a double bed and Oh! Guess what size bed all my kids have? Well then, 9 blocks wide gives me 81” finished. And 9 blocks tall gives me an even split into thirds. That meant I needed 54 blocks for the top part and 27 for the bottom. There, quilt math done.

Over the course of a few weeks I got the sunset blocks done. I did precisely zero planning for how many blocks of each colour. I just cut a bunch of fabric - first raiding scraps, then stash - and made blocks. All blocks are improvised, but with the same technique of gentle curves and number of strips. I did save yellow for last, assuming I wouldn’t need as much because that was my sun. It’s up to the design wall play to make them work together. Of course, I am open to deleting some blocks and making others, if that is what is called for.

Then I had to lay it out on the design wall - where the fun really begins. And frankly, it doesn’t truly end until I start sewing things together and commit to the layout.

Here is the first go around with all 54 blocks.

Make waves layout A.jpg

It feels choppy, like the colours aren’t flowing. I’m never going to have a perfect gradation, but this is too far off. I also don’t like that one random bit of yellow in an orange block. It needs to be managed.

On to the next try.

make waves layout B.jpg

Much better. The pink is more on the one side and the orange on the other, but without there being a defining line. But a few blocks stick out too much to me, I want more flow. And that pesky yellow strip is a bit more under control.

Still need to play.

make waves layout C.jpg

Closer yet. I think the pink has too much of a vertical dividing line now though. I may need to wrap the pink around the orange a bit more. And maybe have all the lights be at the top?

This is how it currently stands on my design wall, which means I am not done yet. I’ll know when it feels right. I usually, involuntarily, squeal and jump when it feels good. Then I sleep on it. Now matter how perfect I think it is I do not sew it together as soon as I think so. I always sleep on it. Then I do two things. 1. Look at it is bad lighting. If it still looks good, it’s probably a winner. And 2. Take a picture. Not just to compare to previous iterations like I’ve done here, but because then it is like looking at it far away on the wall. That’s when colour and shape become prominent.

The key thing is to not rush it. Something the perfect layout is the first one you do. No need to doubt that! Sometimes it is the 10th or 20th. Don’t doubt that either. By embracing the process of quilt making, but thinking of this as play and not work, you are giving in to creativity.

Firefly Quilt With a Fluttering Start (Via Pattern Drop)

Firefly Quilt A Long

Even though improv is my mother tongue, sometimes I crave a little precision piecing. It gets my brain working in a slightly different way. Yay for firing the neurons! (Does this mean I won't get dementia in later life?)

I made a single Firefly block to help my friend Katie launch a Quilt Along through her company, Pattern Drop. It was a pleasant way to spend an hour in the afternoon, digging through the scrap bin of solids. But hmm, that was a really nice way to spend the afternoon. Of course I started another block. Then I ran out of the backing fabric (before the block was finished).

Firefly Quilt Block

Darn it, I wanted to finish that block and make more! And usually I would just dig through the stash and keep going but I really, really liked the look with the Essex Linen (in the sparkle variety and regular) and didn't want to change that. That meant convincing myself to order some because no local stores had the regular Essex in Indigo like I needed. Then waiting for the order. And now I just need the time!

The original pattern calls for 16 Firefly blocks. Lindsey Neill from Pen and Paper Patterns did a great job of drafting this block. There are some piecing options plus a bee version (I think mine lands somewhere in between bee and firefly). The pattern reads for the whole quilt, with options. I won't lie, read that way it scared me with the cutting instructions. That's because I never cut all at once. I can cut one block at a time and feel good. Less efficient, but suits my time allowed and available brain space. Plus, I have a think a bit more so more neurons fired!

Scrap Fabrics Essex Linen Metallics

Storing Quilts Under Construction

When you have almost 40 quilts on the go you have to find a way to store them before they become quilts. And my sewing room is far too small to let them take over. And I am not one to thrive in a messy work space. So here are my storage solutions.

My cutting table was purchased with all the storage in mind. The top shelf contains bins with active projects. If I need to grab something or only have a few minutes to play this is where I go.

The bottom shelf contains all my scraps, colour sorted in bins - the pattern is the quilted storage box from Sunday Morning Quilts.

On the floor (usually tucked under the shelf) are plastic bins with class samples and other projects. I recently labelled them and this was an awesome move on my part. No more guessing!

In front there, but usually tucked to the side are some straw bag my mom once picked up on a trip to Acapulco. They are perfect for storing projects. Plus, they look cool and can be moved around the room as necessary.

I am lucky enough to have two full size closets in the room. One has my stash. The other has batting (all those messy scraps on the bottom right), garment sewing stash, my patterns (not visible) and then projects. On the top shelf there are the quilt tops (with their backs or fabric for backs) folded. I have no hanging space otherwise I would hang them. Then it is all projects sorted into piles - for bigger and more active ones, bags, and bins. I recently sorted through them all and this is actually quite neat and organized, even if it may not appear so.

One little spot in the closet holds some particularly small scraps and a stack of Liberty circles. I keep them front and centre just because they are pretty. And hopefully will motivate me to play with them a bit more.

It's a small room, but it is all mine! I've had to get disciplined about storage or else I would never actually get anything done. And now, no matter the mood nor the time, I have easy access to anything I could want to work on.

Quilts Under Construction - 2015 in Review

It seems I missed the last quarter's summary. Oops! Although, if I'm being honest, there wasn't much to report in terms of movement on this list in the 3rd quarter. But with a new year it is time to start fresh.

I cleaned out my one closet that stores a lot of the Quilts Under Construction. Only because I was looking for something specific and couldn't find it. It was a good thing to do. I resorted, reevaluated, and restocked the shelves. Some things are now off this list because I know I will NEVER get to them. So I started a pile for a quilty garage sale in the spring. Some quilt tops, sets of blocks, and fabric. It's good to let go.

The other difference is that I truly separated out class samples. In time they may make it on this list, but if they never make it out of the class bin then there is no point to them being here.

So, the number looks different. I am still totally okay with this number. In fact, I don't give a poop what the number is. I care that the projects are still interesting to me.

Quilts Being Quilted

1. Low Volume Circles
This might be the winter I embrace hand quilting. Maybe.
2. Antonio's Quilt
It is half done and I've pulled it out of the closet. It is the first one up for January. I swear.

Quilt Tops Ready for Quilting

3. A giant version of the Legendary Quilt by Elizabeth Hartman. We finished it yesterday so look for it here in the coming days.
4. Improv Sampler
5. Checkerboard from Sunday Morning Quilts
6. Slaveship Quilt
7. The Evil Genius' Triangle Quilt
8. Giant Hexagons
In a recent clean-up I found a block from my bee that missed getting in the quilt. So yes, I do plan on inserting it into the finished quilt.
9. Lilac Lovely
10. Cirrus Solids Pinwheel top
11. Solid Sunday Morning
12. Oh Canada Quilt in Red
13. Orange Is For Nerds
Just waiting for Carkai to be available in my LQS as I am stuck on a certain print being the backing for this quilt.
14.  A mini/small quilt in a low volume rainbow. Geez, get it done already!
15. Shh...
My low volume Shoeman's Puzzle quilt top. So excited about this one.
16. Circle Lattice
17. Mod Christmas Tree Take 2

Blocks and Process

18. Beach Grass Take 2
19. The girls' clothes turned into a quilt with the Gee's Bend quilters.
20. Hand Pieced Diamonds
21. A values quilt in neutrals
There are more than enough blocks after teaching this class a half dozen times that it needs to be turned into a quilt now.
22. Edges/Studio Stash Play
This is one that has been on my mind lately... It may be a few months before I get to it though.
23. A found quilt top that I would like to overdye in Indigo as an experiment.
Risky? Absolutely. When the weather is warm enough to try it outside I have it on the agenda. So, in 6 months.
24. Mid Mod Bee
25. Snippets on Dates
Technically this could be a finished quilt top, but the snippets never end. And I have that issue with not making small quilts.
26. The X-Plus blocks I used in the Creative Live Quilting with Low Volume Fabrics class.
Periodically I pull out fabric and make one more. I like the break of precision piecing.
27. Respite - a project started in a Bill Kerr design workshop
28. Chandelier quilt
This one might get some attention this year. It was always one with a certain recipient in mind and she could probably use it one of these days.
29. Name quilt for my daughter
30. Park blocks
Up to 10 right now. Again, could finish at a decent size, but I will likely make many more.
31. A whole bunch of pinwheels that I'm playing with. Started as prep for my CreativeLive Pinwheel Play class.
32. Piecemakers/Peacemakers 
My Gee's Bend inspired blocks after my trip to Alabama are coming together, slowly. Definitely a project for the right kind of time.
33. Small Wonders
Some test panels of Flying Geese are made and I've shared a few Periscope broadcasts on this project.
34. Liberty Circles
35. Pieced Stars - in recent weeks I've made a few more stars. Crazy precision piecing kick I've been on.
27. The Water Quilt
I know I said I wasn't counting class blocks, but I now have enough blocks to turn this into a quilt. Maybe very soon.
30. Y2K quilt
31. Another leaders and enders project, intended to be like Up, Up, and Away from Sunday Morning Quilts
32. Round and Round blocks - Up to 16 of these now.
34. Leftovers from Modern Paris
These almost got put into the garage sale pile. They may still end up there.
36. Paperless paper piecing block from my class with Cristy Flincher. I once thought it needed to be the start of a medallion quilt, but I've dug into my solids stash and the same colours are long gone. So, we'll see what happens.

+ one bit of secret sewing that is in the quilting phase.

2015 Finishes

Vintage French Quilt
QuiltCon Quilt
Values Plus
Argyle I and II
Glitter Pen
Aloha Kakou
+ two more bits of secret sewing that will be revealed in a month or so.

Most of those finishes were in the early part of the year. Not much sewing over the summer and fall as the family demanded more time. I feel more in control of my time and reactions to time. And I am committed to some more finishes before more starts. Although really, I didn't start much last year either!

This year, like all others will be busy. There will be more secret sewing (!!), unexpected inspiration that HAS to be acted on, and a very indelicate balance between life, work, and fun. I'm glad you are along for the ride.