Sunday, February 3, 2013

How to be Trendy, Lazy and Fabulous

The good news is, I got a commission to make a baby quilt!

This is a small piece of the finished quilt. If you scroll to the bottom you can see the whole quilt now, but I think you'll have much more fun if you read through the article and let yourself be surprised. 
The somewhat less interesting news is that the commission is from my husband!

 If I make it, I get to continue living with him! (If I don't, same thing.)

Although my marriage is, in all seriousness, my grand prize in life, it still isn't as exciting to have a spouse-who-I-sometimes-take-for-granted commission a quilt, as it would be if it were a random stranger who emailed from afar (Of course, afar strangers usually want Wal-mart prices. In that case, one should politely decline, but still feel grateful that a non-relative liked one's work.)

But back to my commission: It's for one of my husband's colleague's new baby girl! And for an assortment of reasons, I had a two-week deadline! 

I did not leap to accept this commission. Not only do I sometimes take my husband for granted, but also, this was an out-of-town colleague who I hadn't met.

Before accepting his offer,  I had to ascertain whether my husband really liked the colleague. Whether he really, really liked the colleague. Because I'm not going to make a quilt for someone who he doesn't really really really like, if not totally love.

He did. Then I inquired whether the colleague and spouse are the type of people who would appreciate a hand-made quilt. Like most quilters, I learned my lesson early to not make quilts for anyone who isn't WILDLY enthusiastic about the prospect. Otherwise, one is likely to be driving past their house when one spots their yard sale, brakes, and leaps out to discover one's handmade quilt on the sale table, not being used as a table-covering but actually for sale, at substantially less than Wal-Mart prices.

So once my husband swore that he adored them as people, and that they would never sell a handmade quilt at a garage sale, I was free to embrace this new commission.

Everything else about a baby quilt assignment is wonderful. And one of the best things is that, if you actually want the baby to use it, you can and should keep it simple.

Which brings us to "modern" quilts. One of the greatest things about them is that, instead of cutting and stitching thousands of things, you can do 3. Seriously. So that's less work. For example, this very modern hexagon quilt by Julie Herman.  (Buy pattern here: (No financial affiliation, and I haven't made it, I just like the way it looks)....
Totally "modern". Compare that to this non-modern ("old"?) hexagon quilt top below that I bought at a flea market late in the last century. The person who made it, maybe in the 1930s or 40s, used thousands of pieces, and clearly became bored, incapacitated, and/or dead before finishing it, which is why I found it lolling on the sale table at a flea market (for above-Wal-Mart prices). And it looks like the same will be said about me when my great-grandchildren find it in my attic and put it on Craigslist in 2062 (Craigslist by then will be beamed directly into people's brains).
It's huge. You're looking at half of it in the photo above. 
The fabrics are fabulous. I haven't counted the pieces, but I'm estimating around 46,832. 

Even if I did finish it, even if I hacked off a few feet for a crib-size quilt, it would make a dreadful baby quilt. Too many seams! It would not hold up to multiple washes!

But back to the great things about "modern". Another positive attribute is improvisational piecing, in which shapes and angles are off kilter. There are all kinds of wonkily pieced modern quilts out there these days, justifiably winning prizes at quilt shows. For many of us experienced, er, mature quilters, it is far more difficult to do wonky than to square things off. 

There are three ways to do wonky:

1.By actually improvisationally piecing. This is the most labor intensive. Start with a colored scrap. Cut it wonky:
Cut a non-perfect neutral strip:  
Stitch it to one side of piece 1
Add another strip to another side
 And so forth....
This activity will put you into the most pleasant possible meditative state, during which you will lose track of time, which is good, because it will take a long time to make a quilt at the rate you are going.

Once you've completely surrounded your original fabric with the background color, it may look something like this.
(Pretend you can see lots of seams in the white areas). 

Change colors - maybe get a wonky blue strip - surround that one in a similar way, and add it to one side of the first unit. Continue to do that, adding other colors. If you are lucky, it might eventually start to look like this:
(Continue to pretend there are lots of seams in the white fabric).

2. The Fusible Method. This is the easiest. Press paper-backed fusible web to the back of different solid color fabrics, cut them into uneven rectangles, press them to a neutral fabric, and stitch them all around to secure the edges.. The results may look something like this:.
Pretend there is a tiny little zigzag going around the edge of each rectangle.
3. And finally, there is The Shopping Method.  Go out (or stay home) and buy this fabric:
Ha! Did I fool you? This is what quilters call "cheater" fabric! You can pretend you pieced or appliqued it, but it's really just one fabric. Here's some more of it.
Cheating pays! It saves hours, and makes a more durable baby quilt, for people who might not even want a quilt, and hold rapacious yard sales, so why the heck not? And it's certainly more economical to buy one piece of cheater fabric, than to separately buy yardage of all those colors. If you're lucky enough to find "modern" cheater fabric, you can be quick, trendy, lazy AND cheap, while making a fabulous baby quilt!

It just so happens that just before I received this baby quilt commission, I had splurged for myself for Chanukah and bought a pack of FQs from this collection, Kaufman's 'Modern Quilts by Cynthia Frenette.'  The site where I bought it showed only slivers of the fabrics. When I untied the bow holding the stack together, these six tumbled out.
Five of the six fabrics are cheater fabrics, which mimic piecing (or fusing)! The one on the far right is a cheater wedding rings design! Just wait until that baby gets married!

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. The central fabric above,with the white background, went great with leftover turquoise owl fabric that I bought a year ago to make my daughter's bat mitzvah quilt. Here's a second peek at a section of  my finished baby quilt:
The baby's middle name is "Olivia." "Owlivia!" Get it? (I didn't find that out til the quilt was finished, though!)

Following the law of threes (art looks better in odd number sets for reasons discussed below), I decided the quilt needed one more section, so I created a section with concentric circles, using method #2 above (fusible backed solid fabrics, with zigzagging over the edges).
Babies like eyes; and I also think babies like dots and circles because they remind them of the, er, the dairy department. My own babies were fascinated by anything round and mammarian at a certain stage of their very young lives. (I still remember a metal fire hose outlet, at one of our favorite parks, which contained metal circles within circles, with one small metal nodule sticking out in the middle, that my baby toddled up to and tried to nurse from).

So, without further ado, here's the quilt I wound up with!
Long ago, when I first started quilting, I read that a good quilt should keep your eye moving, finding patterns, parallels and differences. Not too much symmetry (thus the law of 3s), because it makes the eye stand still, which is a certain indicator of viewer boredom if not death (see zillion hexagon quilt above). In this quilt, I did that by picking up the circles from the owl eyes, and then contrasting them with the rectangles;  everything is unified by some similar colors, and by being  tossed into the air like a chunky salad, with fat round cherry tomatoes, thick carrot and cucumber slabs and, um, owl-shaped vegetables, flying through the air.

So the moral of the story is, if you gotta make a baby quilt fast for people you don't know but your husband swears are absolutely stellar human beings, go for some trendy 'modern' cheater cloth , and you will wind up with sturdy, lovable, baby quilt for people your spouse really, really, I mean really likes, and, if you met them, you probably would too. Ideally, they should be the kind of people who loathe hosting garage sales.

PS I shared this on Nina-Marie Sayre's Off-the-Wall Fridays, with lots of wonderful art quilts:


  1. This is so funny! Thanks for the story. And thanks for your comment about the fabric beads on my blog.
    Sandy in the UK

  2. Thank you for your very generous comment on my "Wiggle Waggle" piece. You never know about how your work will be treated, even though people seem to be the best of all choices. It is hard to let go, isn't it?

  3. I loved your story behind the piece and I love the way the three pieces compliment one another.

  4. Thanks for this great story ! Love your quilt ;-))

  5. Laughed through the story, love the baby quilt!

    1. Thanks, Katherine and Beverly! So glad it made you laugh!

  6. OMG tooo funny!! You know I got a commission the same way - my husband's boss said - my wife saw this great quilt at a local gallery but she'd want it in the colors to match the bedroom - my husband said - Ohh yeah - my wife can make that - without seeing the quilt or asking me - of course! Turns out it was this pretty bargello - and she wanted it made in king size - LOL!! OMG - had to teach myself how to make a bargello with the exact curves as the one in the gallery (where I sneaked a camera pic of!) It was about 110" - LOL!

    1. Oy, Nina Marie, that's the commission from heck! You must REALLY love your husband! At least you learned a new quilting skill!
      Thanks for stopping by, and for all you do!

  7. Love your story :)

    Cute baby quilt. I've got my own partially made hand-me-down flower garden quilt that I wouldn't dare put in a garage sale which my daughter will inherit someday.

  8. Linda, thanks for stopping by. I'm so glad to hear about your garage-sale-prohibition vow!!! And about your flower garden quilt - that's a lot of work!

  9. Love the story ( especially the salad part!), and I wonder what the back looks like...great quilt. I'm sure it will become a much loved "blankie".

  10. Love the story ( especially the salad part!), and I wonder what the back looks like...great quilt. I'm sure it will become a much loved "blankie".

  11. Jeri, the back is a turquoise flannel with pink flamingos all over it!
    Thanks for coming by!!!