Sunday, December 29, 2013

Swimming Pool Quilts II: Serendipity and a Tutorial

After finishing the small pool things in the previous post, I was contemplating a larger quilt with multiple pools. By astonishing serendipity, on Monday December 2, as I was eating breakfast, I found a front page article in my Los Angeles Times about - swimming pools?! 

It seems that a young German designer named Benedikt Gross, flying into LA, was fascinated by the glittering landscape of pools below. He partnered with Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist Joseph Lee, to map some 43,000 local pools (and hot tubs); they analyzed the data using cutting-edge methods, correlated it with public databases (including the child molester's registry, and people who donated money to defeat same-sex marriage!?) I cannot adequately describe this projects's complexity, so here's Gross's summary.
The project attempts to highlight on one hand the emerging and powerful role of non-domain experts in the discovery of scientifically and socially relevant information, and on the other hand seeks to emphasize the darker, creepier, and more contentious issues surrounding data processing and exploration.
Got that? They wound up with a 6,000 page 74 volume set of results. And here's one of the creepy parts: they produced a voyeuristic silent video called The LA Swimmer which takes you on a Google rover tour through back alleys, peeping over fences at pools. Gross describes it more poetically:
Imagine swimming across Los Angeles as if pool-by-pool they form a river through the city; 43,123 oases stitched together in a desert of hyper-urban reality. You float unabashed down your unmapped highway of water, but are confronted very quickly by the fact that you are not welcome in this realm of kidney and clover bowls, Olympic-sized parallelograms, and hot tubs. Threatened by an unforgiving obstacle course of disgruntled homeowners and an impending court order you continue from pool to pool, your reconciliation awaiting you in the next chlorinated ecosystem.
And speaking of kidneys and clovers (hey, that's an old song! sort of), one more interesting result of their study (that I am capable of comprehending) is how irregular most of the shapes are. You'd think most pools would be perfect ovals, rectangles, and kidneys, but in fact most appear to be quite asymmetric and quirky. 

So I gave myself artistic liberty in imagining various pool shapes. From a quilter's and a viewer's perspective, the most important (and fun) aspect of translating pools into fiber is creating a ridge and a height difference between the water on the lower level and the what I'll call the "patio"fabric above. You can see it in the shadowed outlines:
For the patio level, I mostly used  novelty fabrics that resemble flooring - bricks and planks. Quilting along the texture lines of these fabric make touching the quilt irresistable.

The technique I used has a name, reverse applique. I also added a layer of a fusible interfacing called Decor-Bond (thin fusible fleece works too), to raise the ground level above the water. 

To make one block:
1. Cut a square or rectangle of  patio fabric (something that resembles outdoor flooring) the size you want the block (plus a half-inch for seam allowances.) 
2. Cut a piece of Decor Bond or fusible fleece to the same size.
3. Do a few sketches on paper  until you have a pool shape you like. The pool's edges should be at least an inch from any outer edge. For shape inspiration, along with the Gross/Lee study above, I also looked at aerial Google satellite pictures of pool-ridden neighborhoods near my corner of southern California; and at swimming pool builder websites. You will also be struck by how assymetrical many are. For ease of turning under, avoid sharp corners in your pool design.
4. Trace the pool shape onto the interfacing, and cut out it. (We won't need the center for this project.) 
5. Fuse the outer area of the interfacing to the back of the patio fabric. 
6. Cut away the patio fabric inside the hole, leaving just a quarter inch showing all the way around.
7. Clip valley curves only, perpendicular and close to but not touching the edges of the interfacing. Don't clip curves that jut into the space. 
8, Turn the unbacked edges inside and to the back of the interfacing. Glue-stick in place. 
Here's what the back of each block looked like after I'd cut and turned in the edges, and stitched several blocks together, but before I added the blue backing: (Ignore the blue in this picture; it just happened to be resting on that fabric; the idea is that these are holes.)

8. Turn the windowed block over, and lay it on your pressed pool fabric. Pin the pool fabric place around the pool edges (about an inch out), inserting the pins through the patio fabric. 
9. Stitch in place by doing a straight topstitch 1/8" onto the patio fabric,  all the way around the edges. 

When you have enough, sew the blocks together. Assembled, my large quilt looked like this.  
I really liked it undecorated. But since I suffer from chronic horror vacui, I thought: Maybe it needs more? Diving boards; slides; umbrellas? (The satellite imagery that I looked at showed LOTS of umbrellas. Fewer diving boards, and I couldn't identify any slides). I gave some of them white and dark grey diving boards, plus some medium grey slides and colorful pool umbrellas. 
I can't decide which way I like this quilt, naked or loaded, and I would be very grateful for your vote in the comments. 

Meanwhile, here are some more individual pools. I quilted the water in Sulky holographic thread, which gives them a shimmer as you walk by (just like flying over LA). Alas, the shimmer doesn't much show in the pictures. 
The next pool inspired by Las Vegas', maybe the world's most expensive private pool (to the tune of $7 million):

The slides have Sulky holographic thread strands stitched down them, and  over the edge into the air above the pool (I did that part with wash-away stabilizer).  The pool umbrellas are mounted on shank buttons,so they jut upwards and lean over a bit.

If you're inspired to make a pool quilt, you can consider adding even more features: Water-loving creatures, beach balls, people, palm trees, etc., from novelty fabric, or scan them from copyright free art and print onto fabric sheets run them through your printer. Applique in place with invisible thread. (That's what I did in the previous post.) Send me pictures!


  1. I love the diving boards. Pretty cool!

    1. Thanks so much, Mego, I'm glad you liked the diving boards - I was a little uncertain!

  2. Totally fun, thanks for sharing on QA!

  3. Thank you, Sarah Ann, I'm a longtime fan of your work!

  4. I'm having a vicarious vaca, on a white inflatable bed on one of these pools. Ahhhhh.


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