Thursday, August 2, 2012

Piecing again

A couple of weeks ago Judy Kirpich wrote a blog post that exactly summed up what's going through my mind.  She wrote:  "It's that time of year when artists who work in the quilt media start to go bonkers.  Either they have not yet finished their pieces for Quilt National, or they have finished them and are wondering if they should try and produce one more, one possible better than the last."

I have two pieces quilted, blocked, and ready for facing.  I have a third one pieced, but I'm not happy with it.  Decided to take a calculated gamble and start a new piece which I hope will be better.  Maybe it will have to be a bit smaller than my others (you know I love to work HUGE) but I think I can finish it in time.  If all else fails, I can quilt up the one I don't love so much.

I've been using my technique of fine line piecing for several years now, and my mental to-do list of approaches I haven't tried yet is getting shorter.  My first several quilts were all in solids, but more recently I've explored using print fabrics for the very narrow lines.  Twice I've used striped fabrics for both the narrow "mortar" lines and the larger "bricks."  Now I want to use prints for both bricks and mortar.

Like many people in the US this summer, I have heat on my mind, and the new quilt is all hot orange.

Some readers have asked me how I go about piecing the very complicated designs in my quilts.  It isn't at all complicated if you take it one bit at a time.

I start with strips, which I sew into strip sets.  The "brick" strips are always separated by narrow "mortar" strips.  I don't make my strip sets very long, because I don't want to be stuck with the repetition of A-B-C-D too many times.  So I might take those four strips, slice them into shorter pieces, and make one set of A-B-C-D, another of A-D-C-B, etc.

This is a lot of tedious sewing without much intellectual challenge, so I listen to trash TV or the opera and just crank out the miles.  Finally the fun part starts.  I press everything and cut the strip sets into short slices.

Then I find three or four slices that are the same length, preferably with different fabrics or different arrangements of the same fabric, and sew them together to make a little block.

After I've made a bunch of small blocks I fit them together to make larger blocks.  I hate to waste fabric (by which I mean cutting off a quarter-inch or more) so I often use a two-step technique to fit small blocks together.

I find two blocks that are about one brick width apart from each other.  I sew the end of a long strip set to the shorter block, sew the two blocks together, then trim off the long strip set to the exact length I need to match the other block.

Then I repeat these steps to make larger and larger blocks.  And repeat.  And repeat.  And repeat.  And repeat....


  1. Aha! Thanks for the little tute! I love the orangeyness of these!

  2. I can't believe you're starting a new quilt at this late date, but knowing how fast you work, I'm sure it will be finished. The orange is looking good!

  3. I LOVE orange, so I can't wait to see this quilt. Thanks for sharing your technique--you are SO generous about sharing how you work. Good luck with your entries.

  4. I'll ask one more question. How do you trim/square your really large pieces after blocking?

    The orange is looking hot.

  5. Lisa -- you need a really big flat surface! mine used to be a pool table.

    when I get around to trimming a quilt I will take photos and show you in detail.

  6. Excellent to see the process like this. I'm guessing you can only really do this by machine, with all that cutting and slicing. It's really effective.

  7. Love the orange. I'm trying to figure out if what I have is good enough to enter Quilt National or not....dilemma!

  8. Hm - guess I'm behind schedule because I have barely started - maybe 10 hours into making work that might be eligible for QN if it turns out good enough. Guess I better get my butt in gear.

    Love the orange!

  9. MMmm Love the orange. Creamsicles and daquiris come to mind. Thanks for the insight to your process. I think I may like learning about other people's artisitic process as much as seeing finished objects.

  10. You have totally inspired me when I needed it the most. I found your site by asking Google the question 'what is an art quilt' and was intrigued by your answer. Then I had to see what else you had to say. LOVE your blog. Sent it to my sister also.
    I do have one question. Do you have a specific 'mortar' size or is it random. Looks like it might be 3/4" but just curious.
    Thanks again for all your words.

  11. Hi Bonita! thanks so much for your very kind words.

    I try to keep the mortar about 1/8 inch but sometimes it ends up a bit wider. I generally cut my mortar strips a hair under a half-inch, and sew approximately eighth-inch seams.

    In this quilt I tried to keep the bricks on the small side, so almost all the strips were cut between 1 1/4 inch and 7/8 inch. It's making for a lot more piecing, but I like the effect of the very small bits.

  12. WOW - that is teensy. I might be to old to work with those tiny pieces, but I bet it looks wonderful. Thank you for the response. I am fascinated by your quilting on the small pieces so am trying to make one now. I have been blocked for quite a while and your blog is getting the juices flowing. THANK YOU!