Sunday, November 28, 2021

Guild Challenge 2021: Experiments, discoveries, feedback

Every quilt teaches the maker something! I think you learn more if you try something new, or different, or unexpected... and step outside your "norm" during the process. In making my 2020-2021 guild Challenge, there were things I experimented with, discovered and learned from the process and from viewer feedback.

"Along Together" by Veronica Hofman-Ortega
Finished size: 65" x 67.65"   November, 2021

New things I tried

A Guild Challenge is the perfect venue for trying new things—techniques, materials, composition, or whatever you've always wanted to try but something stopped you. Your guild provides a safe environment to try something—whether you think you failed or succeeded—and fellow guild members are supportive of you and your endeavors.

In the Discussion and Feedback portion of our Challenge Reveal guild meeting, several participants said they indeed tried something that was out of their comfort zone in this challenge. Bravo to all of you! 

Here are the new things I tried with this Challenge and my discoveries from working on it.

  • I used a wool batting in a quilt for the first time. My usual go-to batting is 100% cotton. I think the wool provided a little more dimension and loft in the unquilted areas. Wool is also a breathable fiber and will provide warmth.
Improv pieced letter blocks.
  • Over the last few years, incorporating words on quilts has resurfaced as a trend. This was my first use of patchwork letter blocks. The blocks were pieced totally improvisationally—laying out the darker fabrics [the letterforms] on the cutting mat and then cutting strips, rectangles and triangles of lighter fabrics for the background. Somewhat like "writing—or printing—letters with fabric." As a typographer, I was in my element creating letterforms again!
  • With this quilt, I experienced a love-hate relationship with rulerwork. I have used rulers before, but not on a large quilt. Using a ruler was easier in the center when the rest of the quilt was not yet quilted (the quilting makes the quilt heavier). As I quilted outward from the center, the quilt got heavier. Turning the quilt for using the rulers in the direction that was comfortable for me got to be more time consuming and cumbersome.
         I'm all about "having fun" with the quilting... and occasionally, this was not a fun part... especially toward the end.
  • The scrappy flat piped binding turned out especially well (in my opinion). I've done flat piped binding (or faux piped binding) on previous quilts, but this time I made the piping scrappy. 


Discoveries and things I learned

  • When quilting the scrappy heart blocks, I initially used a chalk-o-liner to mark a center heart. The second idea was to cut a heart from freezer paper and use it as a template to free-motion quilt around it. Much better, much easier and faster!
Scrappy heart blocks for the border.
  • I'm glad I included the scrappy heart blocks around the outside of the center. At one point (with not much time to finish this quilt before the deadline), I considered just the center section as being the finished piece. I'm glad I "listened to the quilt."
  • Something I learned from making a scrappy flat piped binding was to remember the orientation of the binding strip. With the piped binding process, the binding is attached to the back and rolled to the front for stitching. I understand this, but when I was planning certain fabric colors to coincide with the adjacent patchwork. I laid out the piping strips on the quilt top, but when the binding was attached, it was in reverse order. 
         Thankfully, serendipity stepped in and the color placement turned out well all the same. I chalk this up to it being a "true" scrappy quilt.
  • I really wished I had allowed more time to quilt a quilt this size... especially with custom quilting. I think I would have enjoyed the quilting part more.
Half-square triangle crumbs
  • Crumbs and scraps: It was fun to use tiny triangle trimmings for the HSTs and fabric swatches/scraps for the scrappy heart blocks. This was a welcome, stress-free and feeling-productive process during the pandemic lockdown.
Scrappy heart (before).

Scrappy heart (after).
  • A study in value: The fine tuning of the center section and incorporating the scrappy heart blocks was a good exercise for determining the correct value (lightness/darkness). I actually took out part of one heart (after it was pieced into the top!!) and replaced the fabrics with some of darker value. 


Viewer feedback

This year, my team presided over the Challenge Reveal presentation a bit differently. Rather than having the makers get up and talk about their inspiration and process, I decided to ask for feedback from the viewers for each quilt first. 

So often, quilt makers don't hear what viewers think about, were impressed with, or found interesting about their work. I think feedback is important for the makers... and important for viewers to be able to verbalize what they see in the work.

Here are insights about "Alone Together."
  • viewers mentioned they liked the variety of quilting motifs.
  • they noticed the color/value difference in the center section and the contrasting quilting motifs that helped define that part of the composition.
  • they liked the fussy cut images from The Ghastlies in the "windows."
  • one of my fabric clients, with whom I shared an in-progress photo, keyed in on all the small scraps in the HST units. She identified with using stash fabrics and leftovers during the pandemic. This is exactly what I did! (I believe many of us quilters and makers were alone together doing the same thing!)
With this feedback, I feel my quilt was successful in meeting the Challenge parameters and also was a good composition in itself.

First Place ribbon, Guild Challenge 2020-2021.

Details about the design and piecing phases for making this quilt and the quilting and binding including the quilt stats, are in these previous blog posts. Thanks for reading!


Friday, November 26, 2021

Quilting the Lonely Hearts Club quilt: free-motion and rulerwork

This is the second post chronicling the process of my 2021 Guild Challenge quilt. See Part 1 here.

November 6, 2021: With a week before the Challenge deadline, and a quilt top approximately 70" square... A LOT of quilting needed to be done!

Pin basted quilt top.

Although I had done a digital mock-up of potential quilting designs, the plan for the quilting was not solidified.
Quilting sketch to audition the quilting design.

Free-motion quilting and rulerwork

November 7, 2021: I started in the center with rulerwork frames surrounding the characters in my highrise heart-building. I wanted the characters to seem as if they were seen through windows in a highrise building. Alone in their individual apartments but together in the same building.

Framing the fussy cut images with quilting.

Rulerwork around the fussy cut patches.

Overlapping squares and angles were quilted in the dark values.

Free-motion and ruler quilting in the center section.

Curvilinear motifs were used in the lighter values—to contrast with the geometric angles and accentuate the heart shape. The swirls and bubbles were quicker and easier to quilt than the straight lines around the "windows."

Contrasting quilting motifs in the center section.

November 12, 2021: The scrappy heart blocks were lots of fun to quilt! These were free-motion quilted in an improv style. Each heart had a different doodle design.

Quilted heart block.

Quilted heart block.

November 13, 2021: Various strips between the blocks [sashing] were filled with free-motion zigzags. This is a favorite geometric motif for me. I can pretty much eyeball the zigzags, so I don't mark any of these.

Rulers were used for the radiating lines in the corner triangles and to stitch in the ditch around the heart blocks. 

Free-motion zigzag in the sashing strips.

Rulerwork was also done in-the-ditch surrounding the lettering. I am particularly pleased with the lettering—the improv patchwork, the letter spacing, the whimsical appearance and the rulerwork outline quilting.

A ruler was used to free-motion stitch in the ditch around the improv block letters.


Binding, backing and label

November 14, 2021: I decided a scrappy flat piped binding would be a good complement to this quilt. Leftover strips from the patchwork were used and the binding could be attached by machine (a good thing!).

Strips for the flat piping in the binding.

Flat piped binding, zigzag quilting in the sashing and other quilting motifs.

November 15, 2021: The binding and label were attached the day of the Challenge Reveal... and I know mine was not the only entry that went down to the wire. 

The backing is a 108" wide back from Northcott. The print reminded me of brickwork on a highrise apartment building.

"Alone Together" backing and label.

"Alone Together" label


My First Place Winner

Our guild does a member vote for the Challenge entries. My quilt, "Alone Together," won the 1st Place Award this year! There were 11 entries in the Challenge.

"Alone Together" 65" x 67.5"


Award Ribbons

As a member of the Challenge team that coordinated this program, I also made the award ribbons. We had 4 top awards and all participants received a goodie bag of fabrics, thread, sewing supplies and coupons.

2020-2021 Challenge award ribbons. 

2020-2021 Challenge award ribbons (backs).

Quilt Stats

Threads used for free-motion quilting.

I changed the thread colors quite frequently on this piece. It added to the scrappiness of the patchwork and additional whimsey to the composition. Here are the quilt stats:

  • 40.25 hours of free-motion and rulerwork quilting
  • top threads: 80 wt poly DecoBob [WonderFil Specialty Threads], 50 wt. cotton [Aurifil]
  • bobbin threads: 80 wt. DecoBob, 60 wt. poly The Bottom Line [Superior Threads]
  • the backing fabric is a 108" wide backing from Northcott Fabrics
  • 100 % washable wool batting [Hobbs Tuscany]

Detail of letter blocks. Improv patchwork.

In a final blog post about my Challenge piece, I'll summarize my experiments, lessons learned and the feedback from viewers.

Stay tuned...


Sunday, November 21, 2021

It was 20 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play. (My 2021 Guild Challenge)

Dateline: January 2020.
My guild's annual guild Challenge parameters were presented. "Inspired by 20-20" was the theme, with no size, color, or fabric requirements... just the interpretation of the maker's choice of a lyric, poem, title, phrase, saying, etc. with the word/number "twenty" in it.

It didn't take me long to choose the first line from the Beatles' song, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band for the inspiration of my piece. Little did we know that 2020 would shine a spotlight on a lot of lonely hearts as we all sheltered in place a good portion of that year.

It was 20 years ago today Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play.
from: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, by The Beatles


A photo timeline of my process

April 25, 2020: Stash-busting and playing with HST [half square triangle] clippings and strips of solid fabrics, I was making small log cabin blocks early in the pandemic to pass the time and feel productive. (Making patchwork and using the sewing machine were things we had control of!)

Half-square triangle bits and strips for log cabin blocks.

April 26, 2020: "Let's see what we have here... "
As groups of blocks were made, they were randomly placed on the design wall. I decided this could be the impetus of my Challenge piece.

Log cabin blocks on the design wall.

April 28, 2020: Selective cutting of characters from A Ghastlie Gush fabric collection [by Alexander Henry Fabrics] were interspersed among the log cabin blocks. If you're familiar with The Ghastlies fabrics, you know this fabric collection is very apropos for a quilt about love and lonely hearts.

Images from A Ghastlie Gush amid the log cabin blocks.

April 28, 2020: Because there were no in-person guild meetings from March to the end 2020, this is where I left the project until fall of 2021. My guild team—who was in charge of the Challenge—decided to roll this Challenge to 2021 with the hope we would meet in person for the Challenge reveal.

Log cabin blocks and fussy cut Ghastlie images.

Dateline: Fall 2021 and back to the Challenge

October 17, 2021: It was time to get back to the Challenge. After peeling off other WIPs and flannel tablecloths, this layer of my design wall surfaced. With the deadline a month away, I had to make progress.

Challenge layout, October 17, 2021

October 18, 2021: Another stash-busting patchwork project that I had done during the lockdown was a stack of scrappy heart blocks—originally slated to be a quilt on their own. These, too, were on the playing field (the design wall) with my Challenge piece. 

April 2020: piecing scrappy heart blocks.

Scrappy blocks made during shelter-in-place during 2020.

When the work (or the design wall) talks to you, you listen!

The scrappy heart blocks made their way into my guild Challenge, too. At this point I realized the heart motif was becoming prominent. I used value placement and contrast to rearrange the center log cabin units in a heart shape. I could further accentuate the center heart with the quilting.

Incorporating the scrappy heart blocks into the work.

October 19, 2021: Piecing of the center section began. I did this in chunks of 4-, 6- or 9 units, and rows of units... then assembled the bigger chunks to make the center section.

Piecing the center section.

October 19, 2021: Now that the hearts were part of the piece, I needed a patchwork transition from the hearts to the center section. I also wanted to include the words, "2020 Lonely Hearts Club" in the piece—probably at the top. I had not yet committed to the technique for the words, but applique, free-motion quilting, patchwork and machine trapunto all had potential.

The layout of the quilt top now included the scrappy heart blocks.

October 23, 2021: If you can't do patchwork but still need to work on your Challenge, do sketching of potential quilting designs. Here is a "quilting" sketch on my iPad.

Potential quilting designs. Digital drawing on my iPad.

October 24, 2021: In view of the time remaining before the deadline, I opted for improv pieced letters for the headline. Strips of solid fabrics were added to fill space around the heart blocks—all improvisational patchwork (no patterns were used for the letters or words).

Improvisationally pieced letter blocks.

I was still cutting and making sashing strips to fill the space around the heart blocks. The letter blocks were fine tuned and a few spare log cabin blocks found their way into the outer section.

Rough layout of the Challenge quilt on the design wall.

November 6, 2021: With slightly over a week to go before the deadline, the top was complete and ready for basting and quilting.

Completed quilt top.

To be continued...


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