Monday, March 28, 2016

Breaking all the rules

I've been writing a lot about drawing recently, but that doesn't mean I haven't been putting in my hours at the sewing machine.  Still making acres and acres of distressed white quilting for flag-type quilts, and I want to tell you how liberating this process is!

For some time I have been feeling more and more constrained by and impatient with the traditional quilt format with its perfect piecing, flat batting, beautiful quilting and neatly finished edges.  Too bad, in a way, because I have long ago mastered the skills necessary to execute that format flawlessly.  But I have lately been feeling that the perfect quilt-police-approved technique is like painting yourself into a corner of the museum -- quilts over there in the corner, "real art" out here in the middle of the room.  And also, as I get older and more decrepit, it's physically harder to do the perfect technique on work as huge as I like to make it.

So this spring I'm in rebellion, and feeling quite frisky about it.  Instead of making a huge top and sandwiching and quilting it, I'm making modules: small units, each one sandwiched and quilted. I start with a rectangular piece of miscellaneous fabric as a backing and lay it upside down on my worktable.  Some of my backs are old fabric recycled after decades as home furnishings; some are bits of piecing that never made it as far as a quilt; some are small pieces of fabric left over from other projects or rescued from the grab bag.

these used to be a pillow

somebody's discarded block, sashed with somebody else's leftover fabric

Then I go to my box of leftover batting -- all those strips and bits cut off from larger quilts that I can't bear to throw away.  I lay them out to cover the backing, pretty much.  If there are gaps between pieces of batting I might plug them with an even tinier bit of batting, or I might just let the gap be.

I do the same thing with the top layer, finding miscellaneous fabric to fill the rectangle.  I pin the sandwich together so it won't fall apart on the way to the sewing machine, then stitch as needed to hold all the pieces together.  I might toss down some random threads or fabric bits for added texture, and eventually I progress toward stitching a regular grid over the top of everything.

After the modules are complete I'm joining them at the edges.  You might have used this technique as taught by the quilt police, where you place the two modules face to face, stitch along the appointed seamline, then flip the larger piece over and make a neat binding to cover up the back of the seam.  I have done it this way too in the past, but no longer.

Instead, I butt the two modules together and stitch back and forth over the edges until the two pieces are melded together.  Sometimes one of the modules has an overhanging piece of fabric that I can overlap, or sometimes I lay down a narrow strip to bridge the gap before I start stitching back and forth.  Or not.  The joins might disappear into the overall texture of the quilt, or they might stand out because of the dense stitching -- I don't care.

can you spot the horizontal join? of course you can

This is giving me a quilt with a big chip on its shoulder, which suits me just fine.  It's the antithesis of nice.  It's thumbing its nose at the conventions of the quilt police, opting for impact rather than technical perfection.  And I can't tell you how happy I am making it.


  1. I've been working on rule breaking too. So I say, go for it. Rule breaking is what makes art. Love your attitude and the result.

  2. Having the same thoughts myself; just haven't come up with my solution yet.

  3. Oh what fun--I have NEVER mastered that "perfect piecing" thang--and at 72 most likely won't (who am i kidding--I just don't care to LOL) I love how your working is so free...somehow it does seem difficult to go your own way sometimes--good for you...hugs, Julierose

  4. Love love love! So refreshing freeing. The perfect quilts are somehow intimidating.