Sunday, February 21, 2010

Why the yellow leftovers top makes me nervous

One appeal of using leftovers is that when you confine yourself to the scraps from one quilt, the color palette should already be a harmonious combination. So whatever you make from the leftovers will also go well together.

That makes it easier to put the second piece together – no pesky thinking required – and it’s particularly nice to display the leftover quilt alongside the original so you can see the DNA passed along from the first generation to the second.

However, what if you start with a pile of scraps with no obvious palette? Either because you’re working with leftovers from many different projects, or because one project included everything but the kitchen sink. The latter situation is what I faced with the bits and pieces from Compositional Conversations. The original included just about every color there is, and to make it more complicated, while most were solids, the pile included screen printed fabric, mottled hand-dyes and even some black and white stripes.

I mentioned in a previous post that in the original CC project, I stripped away at least half the composition when it came around to me. There was so much going on that it made me nervous. And that feeling recurred when I started to work with the leftovers. That’s probably why I like the red top more than the yellow one – there’s just too much happening in the yellow.

Now I’m not against quilts where there’s an awful lot happening. But I like there to be some structure that holds things together while they happen. I had thought the pieced “ladder” structure, where the narrow gray strips frame every piece and hold them in rows, would be sufficient for this purpose. But it didn’t do the job in the yellow top. Not only is there a wide variety of colors and patterns in this piece, but there is a lot of curving around and irregularity in the grid.

Grids are loved by many artists because they help hold disparate elements in place, because they make things look orderly even when there is little innate cohesion to be found. That's what I needed with this collection of leftovers.  But in the yellow top, the grid itself is broken.

I’ve used broken grids in earlier quilts in my “Crazed” series, and they worked.

Crazed 7: Flood Stage

Here’s one where the grid curved dramatically.

Crazed 6:  Low Water

Here’s one where the grid was much more random – the “ladders” didn’t all go horizontally, and the breaks came unpredictably. But in both cases, the variation in the grid was the only action in the quilt; the color changed very little, if at all, while the grid was morphing around. In both cases there were only two color segments in the entire piece, and the subordinate one had a totally regular grid. And of course all the “Crazed” quilts that I have shown you are made from solid colors.

I’ve also made “Crazed” quilts with color variation, but the grid was quite regular.

Crazed 4: Painted Desert

But in the yellow leftovers top, I have the feeling that too much is happening at once – both the grid and the color palette are complicated, and it got out of control.

I like the upper half of the yellow top, where there is less color variation and also less dramatic grid variation. I’m tempted to cut off the bottom half for placemats and make the calmer yellow part twice as big (or more). I might be OK with varying the grid a little more dramatically in the new parts, as long as the color palette stayed very restricted.

One word in favor of the lower half of the yellow top came from a friend of mine on the Quiltart list. She said that section looked to her like an aerial landscape, maybe a town on the banks of a river. Since I love aerial landscapes this perked me up and I might even think twice about turning that part into placemats. But I am constrained by the fact that I truly do not have a single square inch of those pink, blue and gray fabrics left, so I can’t do any improvement by addition. I’ll let you know what I decide.

Update:  Five years later I did cut off the bottom half, and I turned it into a quilt, not placemats.  Here's what I ended up with.


  1. What bothers me about the yellow top is that the upper and lower parts don't balance, somehow. It's not the bright/light contrast; maybe it's that the grid-ness is barely seen in the upper part. I don't think my solution would suit you--I'd want to slash it up and put it back together...somehow. I'd have to play around to decide how. You're giving me ideas, though.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky, somehow

  2. Hmm...didn't I see one of your quilts in the Master's Show at the New England Quilt Museum a couple of months ago? I remember something very much like this technique. It was very large.

  3. I like much of what is happening in the yellow top but I feel as if I am only seeing perhaps 1/3 of a much large piece. In the 'larger' piece the elements and colors at the bottom of what we are seeing would move up and balance things out. I love the black and while fabric. Little gems.

  4. Q/D -- no, it wasn't me at the New England Quilt Museum, and I don't know who you are thinking of. A mystery!

    Terry -- if I had more of the pink, blue and gray fabrics maybe I would do what you are envisioning, but I don't. I love the b&w too -- it's such a slam dunk -- peps up anything you put it in. (too easy???)

  5. A question in response to Terry's comment about it feeling unbalanced... what happens if you actually turn this upside down. I wonder if it would feel less missing with the larger yellow mass at the bottom.
    I would love to know the scale of some of your Crazed series. How small are those little pieces? And how is your eyesight!

  6. Judy -- the individual "squares" range in size from about 1/2 x 3/4" smallest to 1 1/4 x 1 1/2" largest. I flipped the image upside down and looked at it, and it doesn't seem to be dramatically better than the other way. I obviously need to think about this a while.

  7. It is totally amazing to me that you can work that small. I am in awe!