Saturday, May 15, 2010

Quilt date for May

I’d like you to meet the quilt date for May – his name is Trey. I don’t think he’s exactly a technique, more an approach to combining fabrics and colors for design purposes. I met this guy as an exercise in a Nancy Crow strip-piecing workshop. She had us make strip sets with three pieces, either black-white-black or white-black-white. Within each color combination we would make several sets of varying widths. Then we would slice the strip sets crosswise and recombine them.

It was amazing how many different variations you could come up with using this approach. At the time I was so firmly tied to the traditional concept of making quilts from rectangular blocks that I could do nothing else with these strips, but I was struck by some photos that Nancy showed from a recent workshop she had taught in Europe. She told us that students in Europe tended to be more sophisticated about art and more willing to let their imagination run free, and sure enough, many of their compositions were not at all block-based – they went off on diagonals and formed irregular shapes and did all kinds of things that I couldn’t make mine do.

I did immediately make one major piece using this approach, using commercial solid colors. My strips sets were either dark-light-dark or light-dark-light, and I arranged them to make a dark shape on a light background.

Hot L Baltimore

Some years later I returned to the concept of the three-strip block to make a series of quilts using my dyed, discharged and painted fabrics. I had accumulated a huge box full of interesting fabrics that I could never figure out what to do with. The surface design was beautiful, but not striking enough to let me just plonk it out there as a whole-cloth quilt. But I didn’t want to cut up the beautiful fabric into small pieces and lose everything that made it special.

Finally I figured out that cutting medium-sized pieces was a good way to split the difference. The blocks in these quilts are about 7” square.  Most of the blocks consist of three strips, cut from longer strip sets.  The occasional accent block is made from a single fabric rather than three strips. I liked this approach because it showed off my interesting fabrics, yet the three-strip organization gave some cohesive structure to the quilts.

War Zone 1: Firefight

War Zone 2: Desert Storm

If you’d like to get to know Trey, your first date might be any of these three variations: black and white, dark and light colors, or interesting surface-designed fabrics.

When you make strip sets, you need to be careful in sewing and pressing so they end up straight instead of curved. A curving seam usually means that you have pulled on your top strip as you sewed. Your first clue might have been that you started with strips exactly the same length, but when you got to the end of the seam the top strip extended a half inch or so beyond the bottom strip.

One way to make sure this doesn’t happen is to pin the strips every ten inches or so. Another is to concentrate on how you are holding the top strip – don’t put any tension at all on the strip, just position it properly side-to-side, let it fall onto the bottom strip, and let the machine pull both of them simultaneously under the needle.

When you press your strip sets, pay attention to laying them straight on the ironing board and make sure they don’t curve under your iron. You can even correct a little bit of sewing curvature by careful pressing.

Make several strip sets at least 12” long in different combinations of colors and widths. Then slice them into pieces and arrange those pieces into blocks or shapes. You’ll want to use your design wall to try out different arrangements.

For the first date, make your strip sets approximately the same width. For instance, you could have some sets with three 2-inch strips, and some with two 1-inch strips and a 4-inch strip, but they’d all be about 6 inches wide, so you can easily sew pieces together into a square or rectangle.

Some possible arrangements include:

Blocks in rail-fence arrangement (this photo shows both Y-O-Y and O-Y-O, but you could use blocks from just one color pattern)


Nine-patch blocks

Diagonal slices

If you like this technique, here are some ideas for the second date:

• Do the same thing on a larger scale than your sample.

• Change your color palette – if you tried black and white, add some color; if you tried monochrome, add another hue or try another color.

• Change your scale – make larger or smaller strip sets.

• Combine different widths of strip sets or sizes of blocks.

• Or anything else that strikes your fancy.

Let me know how it works out. If you want to send me a picture of what you made, I’ll post it.

Have fun!

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