Sunday, November 10, 2019

City of Chicago, Modern Quilt Style

I've been working on this quilt on and off, for a year, and it was one of my most challenging. Rather than just pleasing myself, I also had to please an equally delightful but entirely different person - someone I've admired for years - who has high standards in everything she does. I was thrilled when she commissioned me to make a quilt that would remind her of the Chicago she grew up in.
The finished piece measures about 63" x 70" 
We began with her list of two dozen meaningful landmarks. Over the months, I worked my way down that list, brainstorming ways to render them. 

Starting on the lower right, there's the Art Institute with its guardian lions (My daughter, who is wonderful at drawing, sketched the lions for me, and I interpreted them in raw-edge applique). I added banners advertising Chagall and Picasso exhibits. The building's not pink in real life; with accurate colors, the buildings would run together, and the quilt would be mostly neutrals (Which would be nice in a different way)!
Below it is a Goldenrod Ice Cream truck. Online, I learned that this historic local brand was way ahead of its time, incorporating fresh fruit chunks long before Ben and Jerry! (Unfortunately, Goldenrod is no longer in business, or else I would have ordered a lot of it while making this quilt.)

Beyond the truck are the two towers of Marina City, unusual condos that Chicagoans call the "corncob" buildings:
Photo by Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 3.0,
It took me a lot of experimenting to come up with a way to capture them. After three different fails,  it occurred to me to study actual corn.
That inspired the solution! Each oval is a separate piece of fabric, wrapped and fused around "kernels" of Decor Bond interfacing, and machine appliqued in place.
In the lower left corner is Wrigley Field, with its iconic sign. The stadium is paper foundation pieced.

I made the sign by drawing it in CorelDraw, my computer graphics program. It takes time to find fonts resembling those on the real sign. My finished drawing:

I printed the image backwards, onto the non-glue side of an 8.5" x 11" piece of Decor-Bond fusible interfacing. Decor Bond is stiff enough to go through my printer safely (usually). Once printed, I fused the interfacing to the back of red fabric. From the back, I stitched around and inside each letter. The white or yellow bobbin thread shows on front.

Above Wrigley Field is Water Tower Place, a stone castle plus sleek skyscraper containing a mall (neither is really orange). While making this quilt, I listened to Michelle Obama's memoirs, and I was tickled when she mentioned that she frequented this mall in high school!

To the left of Water Tower place is the tall criss-cross Hancock Tower. (In real life, it's all black.)
The Navy Pier, plus ferris wheel, is adjacent. Like Wrigley Field, this building is foundation paper pieced. I hand-embroidered the fireworks.

Then comes the glassy, curved Lake Point Tower; it's not really purple but it is dark and reflective. The building's curve is done with bargello piecing. There's a sailboat next to it;  the "L" (elevated) train is below, and a Wendella tour boat is under the train's bridge.
In the upper right corner is the historic Chicago Theatre. I machine-embroidered the marque the same way as the Wrigley sign, from the back. Next is the historic Grant Park band shell, no longer standing. I appliqued a fabric orchestra onto it. Above it, the pixellated form represents the Cloud Gate sculpture - the reflective sculpture that Chicagoans call "The Bean."
Underneath is the former Marshall Fields department store (today Macy's), with its iconic clock...
Below, the monumental Picasso sculpture on Daley Plaza (left), and on the far right, the Crain Communications building (formerly known as Smurfit-Stone), with a distinctive slanted  roof.
The center of the quilt has the Wrigley Building. In real life, this white building has hundreds of identical little windows - no fun to piece. But it is a LOT of fun to shop for prints that do the job! I picked a white with tiny pink diamonds. 
And more! This quilt is sixth in a series of modern cityscape quilts. I've done Los Angeles (one  is here), New York (twice) and fantasyland (1 1/2 times, including the image under my blog header). I've also taught and spoken to quilters about them.  They're endlessly educational; and using mostly "modern" improvisational techniques makes them fun and doable by mortals! I'm thinking of writing my next book about these quilts, but to summarize the main point: Make it up as you go. If it's terrible, try, try again.

PS Look what I just found! Photographer shows Chicago's architectural  "quilts"

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Why I Love Leftovers, When to English Paper Piece Squares (Rarely), and Why I Still Like Facebook

If I bake a cake, I know there won't be any leftovers. My DH and I, unfortunately, share a sweet tooth - we'll eat the whole thing in 1-2 sittings. So I don't bake.

That gives me more time to quilt. And one of the great joys of quilting is knowing that there are going to be lots of yummy, color-coordinated, high-fiber, calorie-free leftovers, with a shelf life much longer than anything involving butter!

Here's my newest leftover quilt - a trifle about 22" square.

It's the direct descendant of this large (about 70" high) English Paper Pieced concoction, made a couple of years ago.

(Even as we speak, this quilt is hanging at the Houston IQF show, a bucket list dream for me!) See the small squares between each hexagon star? And the triangle points? I made and auditioned many more than I used. When the quilt was done, I packed away about 30 extra 4" squares and triangles, with edges folded and lightly glued around cardstock.

Alongside them, I stored a stack of circles, ovals and other shapes, all fused to and wrapped around pieces of Decor Bond interfacing, prepared for, but never used in the original quilt.

And there they sat, until last week, when I needed scrap therapy. I decided to stitch all the squares together. 

I didn't want to unwrap them from the cardstock, press out the folds and trim to correct size. Instead, I did something that normally doesn't make a lot of sense - I machine English Paper Pieced them together (With squares alone, EPP takes longer, is more complicated, and is no more accurate than traditional piecing.) 

If you've never done machine English Paper Piecing, here's how it works.  Lay the pieces side by side, good side up, and use a tight wide stitch to bring edges together. (I start and end with a few back-and-forth straight stitches on one side.) 
Tips for machine EPP:

- Use thin, strong thread on top and bottom, to minimize showing. Threads like DecoBob, InvisaFil, and Bottom Line are good choices.
- Monofilament "invisible" thread shows least, but it does create a shine. And it's not quite as strong as other threads; when it comes time to rip out cardstock templates, some stitches may break. That's why it's important to choose the narrowest, closest zigzag - almost a satin stitch - that you can stitch accurately.

Here's how my squares looked after stitching with monofilament.
Time to remove the cardstock. For this stage, a ball-tip stylus aka embossing stylus is a big help. I use a largish size ball tip, at least 1.5-2 cm. 
I rub the stylus end up against the stitching, which helps tear the cardstock. Then the stylus helps me pry out its edges. 
Using my midarm, I straight stitch appliqued everything in position. 
With my regular sewing machine, I did a serpentine stitch with variegated thread between the squares; it covers the monofilament stitching and adds bumpy texture. 
I liked it quiet, with no embellishment; but auditioned other options, like buttons on all the squares:
How about buttons on the triangles, too?
Or maybe buttons between triangles?
Help! I was stuck! So I consulted with a couple hundred of my best strangers and friends. Yes, I'm talking about Facebook - I know it's evil in so many ways, but I still love it because my associates there are so wonderful, interesting and funny! I posted the photos with and without buttons, and invited people to vote. 75 people and/or Russian bots weighed in! Results: 

No buttons: About 6 people voted for this option. 
Yes buttons (to different degrees): about 68 "people"/entities. 
Many offered specific embellishment suggestions, including:
  • Just a few buttons, not on every square (Sandra, Paula)
  • Buttons plus beaded trim (Saraj, awesome quilter)
  • Buttons plus maybe some crazy quilting?(Randi, world-class embroiderer. Easy enough for her to say.)
  • Buttons with sparkly thread (Cecelia)
  • Buttons on the triangles only (Cheryl, genius quilt designer, and others agreed)
  • "You know what I think!" (Christy, awesome sewer and button collector/dealer)
  • "Buttons in random places, out of the norm: stacked, sewn from holes outward, small clusters of teeny-tiny baby buttons, with beads in or across the holes, etc. Ha! Can you tell I love the button thing?" (Jeanie, fabulous fiber artist and handbag maker.) 
  • Zippers or Velcro (Gary, non-quilter - I told him about Jamie,)
  • Multicolored zipper pulls (Jamie, the queen of zippers and other hardware on quilts!)
  • "Buttons, cabachons, rivolis, crystals, beads and clay pieces" (Phyllis, who uses all these things exquisitely!) (I had to look up rivoli.)
  • And finally, my friend Heather, a knitter and thoughtful person, who dresses tastefully, and has an elegant, artistic home. She suggested that, instead of buttons, I should use decapitated Barbie heads. 
Mark Zuckerberg did not weigh in, unless he used a false identity. So I tested the suggestions, and then decided to  put buttons to all the squares, AND to add 36 more navy buttons to the corners. These rounded the squares into near-octagons! (Counting each 1/4 button as an angled "side".)
The navy buttons also give the triangles an arrow shape, 
...which goes well with the arrows quilted into the borders. 
Just for good measure, I took Randi's suggestions to do a little embroidery. (My hand embroidery is a whole lot more "primitive" than hers. I should have sent it to her.)
Below, a weeping button (It's weeping over that incompetently turned angle at 3 o'clock.) 
I am so grateful to my friends for their perspectives and pushing me creatively! If you're inspired to make a quilt like this, I have two suggestions: 1. Don't English Paper Piece the squares together. It takes much longer than traditional piecing. And 2. Start saving up Barbie heads now.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Baby Talk Quilts: Brain Exercise for Quilter & Kid

My friends' kids are in their 20's and 30's, and starting to make babies; thus I am making more baby quilts! Here's my latest. The squares were cut 4";  quilt's total size is about 40" x 50".
I call this an "Everything in the World" or "Baby Conversation" quilt. They're always a joy to make and no two are identical.

They start as a huge stack of 4" squares cut from my encyclopedic collection of novelty fabrics.  Once I have a bunch - 108 squares to be exact - I start placing them on my design wall, brainstorming ways to sort them into categories. For example, in the top row, the 9-patch below, left, is all ocean creatures. The 9-patch on the right contains objects/people related to sky and/or space.

The top row's last block is mostly non-domestic animals.
The first block in the second row is dogs and cats....
And so is the next block. To the right is another block that focuses on non-domestic animals. 
More of them are in the third row, first block. 
Its neighbor is a block that features humanoids; next to that is an all-food grouping. (I also use the latter to make potholders.)
The objects in the first block of the bottom row are united by the fact that they are made by humans.: the Colosseum, keys, computers, rocking horse, cellphones, farm, billiards, violin, money. 
 The middle block in the bottom row is more people and almost-people.
And the last block, in the lower right, are foods that aren't quite as healthy as the block above.  It includes giant and small pretzels, s'mores, grilled cheese sandwiches, bagels, ice cream sundaes, and  black and white cookies.
For the inner sashing strips, I used black-and-white prints, which really do attract infants' attention (I've tested them on real babies!). The outer sashing strips and cornerstones offer a variety of colors. When parents run out of conversation topics with their little ones, I would like to think that my quilt gives them some handy prompts. 

Why do I have so many novelty fabrics? In my early years of quilting, in the 1990s, before Internet fabric shopping, you had to physically convey your corpus to a "quilt shop" - remember those? (We used to have 4 in Pasadena; as of yesterday, there are 0 - thanks, Amazon!) 

Whenever I saw an interesting and/or obscure  object on a fabric - whether it was pocket knives, women's golf, or bowling  - even if I didn't know anyone who liked or owned these things - I bought a half-yard. Because what if I needed it someday? The result is that I have way too much novelty fabrics, that I am using up, square by square. But no matter how many of these baby quilts I make, my stash doesn't appear to be getting any smaller! 

Do you have a go-to baby quilt?

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Wedding Gift Season: Challah Cover, Matzoh Cover, and Beyond

I'm working on a large, complicated city quilt; I've been possessed by it, and it's too large to photograph well right now.  But in sanity breaks, I've whipping up Judaica for weddings we've been invited to recently. First, this quilted challah cover, made from fussy-cut stars.  It's 15" square.

The back is one of my all-time favorite Judaic print - I wish they'd bring it back, I'm running out!
And second, this matzoh cover,which isn't finished yet. The pentagon is English Paper Pieced, using Sewing by Sarah's handy acrylic templates*. I'm crazy about this background fabric, and just can't figure out whether I like this piece more as a square....

...Or as a rectangle?
With a rectangle, more of the fabulous print shows! Your vote counts! 

[UPDATE: The vote - on my blog and social media - was a near tie. So I chose both! I couldn't bear to cut off the excess, so I folded it to the back, and added panels of Passover fabric to create overlapping flaps. Now this gift can be used as a pillow, if the giftee inserts a 14" pillow form - or simply as a matzoh cover!]
The  trompe l'oeil matzoh fabric - so realistic you may want to butter it - as well as the charming Passover fabric above is from Here's a well-stuffed matzoh ball I made from former fabric: 
It's a truncated octahedron, and the directions are in my polyhedron book. And for 24 more ideas about what to make with matzoh fabric, check out this blog post. It's never too early to start sewing for Passover! 


* I have written patterns and directions for Sewing by Sarah, and been compensated for them, but I do not profit from sales of their EPP templates. I did write their free beginner's guide to EPP, that you can download here.