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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Quilts of Valour

It is funny sometimes how particles in your life collide at the perfect moment to create something new, or point you in a new direction. A year ago, I lost my father in law under particularly poignant circumstances. It was a watershed experience for me, and I have been missing Dad and thinking a lot about him and his life lately.

Dad was a veteran of WWII, a Pilot Officer who crewed on Lancasters as navigator/bombardier. He rarely talked of his service experience, sharing the unfortunate view of so many veterans, that no one could ever understand or empathize who had not been there themselves. I think that is quite untrue; anyone who has ever experienced loss and suffering has the requisite experience to understand, but I think it was more than that. I think Dad just found the combined weight of his wartime memories unbearable. I don't blame him for not wanting to relive them in conversation.

And then on Tuesday night's quilting guild meeting, our president Stella announced the guild would like to put together some Quilts of Valour for injured Canadian servicemen and women. With Dad walking so close beside me lately, it seemed a perfect project for me...combining community service, recognition of my Dad's military contributions, and comfort (both for me and the quilt recipient).

I did a little searching on QoV images the next day. Many of the quilts were beautiful, but they did not speak to me. I wanted something that honoured the land that inspired the service and sacrifice, but also something filled with life and colour. After all, this quilt will likely go to a young person, recovering from a serious battle injury. They may not be particularly in the mood to celebrate the flag, but will surely need good energy, support, and inspiration.

So I started off looking at scenes of Canada...often I find colour schemes in nature that I love, but would never have dreamt up by myself. And so I found my third particle, and the enterprise achieved critical mass:

Is that not beautiful?! I had already found one block pattern I liked, a modified log cabin with a maple leaf in the centre, from Debbie Mumm:

I liked the idea of shelter and nurturing in the log cabin portion of the block, and I like this slightly stylized but relaxed maple that lends itself well to that wonderful time saver, fused applique. But the browns did not enchant...I imagined instead that luminous blue-mauve from the photograph paired with a more subtle green. And batiks in glowing autumn colours, buttery yellow, pumpkin orange, cerise red, dark plum in the centre. Wow!

Somewhere, I can hear a shout of laughter. I think it's Dad.

The first of my blocks...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Jingle Jingle!

These are the little guys I made for Christmas 2008! I was finishing a quilting class that winter and decided these would be the perfect gift to all my classmates on our last day of classes. They were a big hit!

Good tute:

I did not stain my clothespins (too much work!), but I did colour in their tiny hooves using a black permanent marker.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Lure of the Scrap Bag

Perhaps it conjures up irrestistible images of kindly circles of women contentedly stitching in armchairs by the fire, but I found myself helpless in front of an online ad for Moda Scrap Bags:

"These bags contain the left overs from Moda's production of layer cakes. Near the print plant, they were being destroyed. Moda swooped in and came up with a clever way to save a scrap! Each bag contain strips of 40 fabrics. Each strip varies from 2" to 4" in width. Each strip is 32" long. Each bag's strips are color coordinated. Approximately 1/2 pound of scraps."

Who could resist?!

As you can see, the scrap bags hold a lot of fabric (about 3 metres or yards), and that fabric is somewhat colour coordinated. Most are 2.5" strips, but this particular scrap bag had five 5" strips as well...yazaa!

Scrap Bag Pros:
-you get a lot of different fabrics with very little effort
-it stretches your colour choices; left on my own I tend to buy the same families of fabrics over and over, meaning I have a very predictable and rather inflexible stash. I would never have bought the turquoise prints in this scrap bag, but they do look good with the cherry reds and rich browns
-at $9.99 per bag, this is very inexpensive quality fabric!

Scrap Bag Cons:
-you do not get to choose the fabrics, so there are going to be patterns in there that you do not care for
-you have to work with what you have: 2.5" strips
-you can't easily get more of any particular fabric
-you are not going to be able to pre-wash and dry most of these strips
-unless you keep the roll intact (the bag contents are rolled up and held by an elastic band), these babies are going to be tough to store

Right away, these scrap bags solve one big problem I was chewing on: the price tag of charity quilts. I love making charity quilts, especially crib quilts, if for no other reason than that it is a great way to build your skills. But quilting costs can mount quickly, so I have to keep an eye on my fabric budget. Guilds usually put together free charity kits with donated materials, but frankly, the fabrics are, alas, often repugnant, breaking my Quilting Prime Directive:

Don't spend all that time and money to make something ugly.

And while struggling to make a lime yellow calico, a rust stripe, and a black and white print somehow come together in an aesthetically pleasing way is surely a great design exercise, I should add to my list of quilting maxims:

Don't donate horrible fabric to charities;
all God's children deserve eye candy!

I ordered three scrap bags, and was surprised to find two were practically identical. I am divided on whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. I had meant to give one to my sister, and it would be fun to see what we come up with having started with the same fabric. Or I could combine the two matching scrap bags into one larger scrap project. But given that my original intent was to expand my stash and my design sensibilities, I was a bit disappointed. If you want to minimize your chance of getting identical scrap bags, order in different seasons or from different sources.

Incidentally, that third scrap bag was almost all Christmas prints:

In balance, I am very happy with my experiment with Moda Scrap Bags. And I found a great site for ideas in using them, Karen Griska's Selvage Quilts...tons of great instructions and online workshops. If you want fabrics you really love and that inspire you, you still can't beat visiting fabric stores, either brick and mortar or virtual. But for a fun project that pushes your boundaries, get your design wall cleared and order some scrap bags!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

From the Work Desk

The One Block Wonder quilt continues! As the hexagonal blocks go up on the design wall, I am increasingly happy I chose this wonderful fabric; and that I decided to cut the triangles to 3.75" in height instead of 4". The smaller size gives more of a concentrated punch of design and colour.

And here is the first block from my Fig & Plum (by Fig Tree Quilts for Moda) Mystery Block of the Month project (source: the Quilt Shoppe).
The peach and plum pink colours are not typically those I am drawn to in the quilt stores, but they are beautiful and a real joy to work with. It points up the importance in any creative endeavour of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone both to acquire new skills and a new eye.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Woven Inspiration

One of the great uses to which I put my computer and the internet is finding yardage of fabric that would otherwise be unavailable to me. Recently I signed up for a One Block Wonder class on impulse...the class was set to go the next day, so it was a scramble for suitable fabric. I walked into a fabric store and immediately spotted something that was perfect, but there were less than two metres left on the bolt. I decided to use what they had for my class, which meant some fancy fudging to get six identical pieces to stack, and was able to order enough to complete my quilt via a quick online search. You can, if you know the fabric name, use any search engine, but is worth checking out. It is useful, say, for searching for something specific, like "blue homespun".

And it is often while browsing fabric sites that I get shots of inspiration for projects that have been brewing in my mind. My middle daughter has a love for all things Japanese, has studied the language and visited the country, and has asked me to make her a quilt to take to first year university in the fall. Obviously, using Asian inspired fabrics is the way to go, and in a quick browse of the 'net, I found this project:

Shiki Paper Lantern Kit from In the Beginning Fabrics

The quilt struck me as a little over-the-top feminine for Emma, but set off a whole shower of creative sparks. I realized that for Emma, a gifted artist and night owl, something reflecting the dark, mysterious and creative journeys of the night is more suitable, and so my thinking about that project was both refined and began to coalesce into something entirely different from what I had initially set out to do.

The Shiki line, though not suited for Emma, struck me as perfect for a crib/charity quilt (I love crib/charity, you can complete in a reasonable time frame, and a great way to expand and refine your skill set), and for myself and some future project, one fabric really stood out:

From the Shiki collection by In the Beginning Fabrics

That one, luscious fabric sent me on a browse for specific fabrics online, and ended in an order for a charm pack. Charm packs are fantastic for previewing get a square of each fabric in the collection, can play on your design wall with relevant combinations, then order online once you make your choices. And yesterday I turned up a pattern I am eager to try that is based on....charm packs! It is a crib quilt from the Moda Bake Shop, which is stuffed with wonderful, inspirational projects.

This has become a critical element in my quilting...the ability to draw from the internet a much wider exposure to fabric collections than is available in my local fabric shops, the ability to preview the entire collection via charm packs, and the ability to then order exactly what I need.

I have sympathy with and an affection for my local bricks and mortar fabric shops, to which I often go for spur of the moment projects and inspiration. But so often, they can only afford to stock a limited number of fabrics from any given season or collection, and that choice rarely reflects my own needs or tastes. And all too often, that one fabric that really stands out? They take the entire bolt and cut it up for inclusion in kits. Aarrrrghhh! Most frustrating! And, as I found when shopping for my One Block Wonder, they often do not have enough of the particular fabric I want, and no way to secure more for me. As the economy has stagnated, so has the fabric offerings in my local shops...fabrics which don't sell linger on, and eventually choke up the shelves. I support them as much as I can, but online fabric searching and shopping frequently comes to my rescue.

Just for your delectation, here are a few fabrics I came across yesterday in my search for Asian prints:

Miyabi Leaves Black, by Moda

Neptune Sea Creatures, by Moda

Let It Snow Batiks, by Laundry Basket for Moda

I haven't got enough money, time or space to collect all the fabrics that ignite my imagination: hope this little sampling starts you off on a creative journey of your own!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

General Inspiration

I frittered away altogether too much of the day cruising quilting websites, dreaming of the longarm setup I am going to get myself in the not too terribly distant future...

Here's one that I really liked
, as it is filled with quilt patterns. Mary has done a particularly fine job of the instructional .pdf's. Kudos, Mary!