Thursday, July 15, 2010

Quilt date for July

The quilt date for July is the artistic equivalent of beach reading -- kind of trashy but lots of fun. I use the term “bad-girl quilts” to describe those where I let the fabric do what fabric does – fray, wrinkle, droop, display its ragged thread ends – rather than where I use all my traditional quilting skills to make it behave. So you could think of this month’s quilt date as somebody that bad girls really go for, maybe a guy in a black motorcycle jacket with a cigarette and tattoos.

There are very few rules to this month’s date: you get some fabric, cut it into bits, and sew them down to a background. You can sew by hand or by machine. You can arrange the bits in an orderly pattern or at random. If the bits have frayed edges, that’s fine; if the edges flutter in the breeze, that’s fine; if you want to leave the thread ends hanging loose, that’s fine. Hey, it’s summer! School’s out! Do whatever you like!

I’ve used this approach in many different ways. Here’s a very tentative toe in the water of bad-girl-ness – yes, the raw edges are fraying, but they’re arranged in a formal grid in a careful pattern. The little fabric bits are just under a half-inch square.

River Map 1

River Map 1 -- detail

In the next piece, Rock Garden, the technique gets a little looser, with the fabric bits larger (maybe 1” x 2 1/2” for the bigger ones) and the rows of stitching roughly horizontal but with no particular spacing or order.

Rock Garden

Rock Garden -- detail

What Goes Up was made from one of my bags of somebody else’s leftovers, some hand-dyed fabric that had apparently been cut up for another purpose. I liked the shapes of what was left, and stitched them by hand to a ground.

What Goes Up

What Goes Up -- detail

I’ve also made many quilts where the fabric bits are actually strips of selvages, but sewed down exactly as I did the small squares, through a quilt sandwich of backing, batting and white ground fabric.

Black I

My friend Terry Jarrard-Dimond has experimented with this technique more than once in her monthly “textile constructions.” Here are photos of three of her projects; you can follow the links to read how she did them.

Terry Jarrard-Dimond -- Hand Cut Dots

Terry Jarrard-Dimond -- Dots and Prickly Pears

Terry Jarrard-Dimond -- Textile Construction #1

If you’re intrigued by this approach and would like to take a spin on the motorcycle with the July quilt date, here are some possibilities.

Start with a ground fabric onto which you will sew your fabric bits. If you choose a firm ground such as canvas or heavy wool you won’t need a backing; a lighter weight ground such as cotton will probably perform better with a backing and/or batting. You could also stack a sheer fabric on top of the base fabric and stitch through all layers.

For hand stitching you can stretch the fabric on an embroidery hoop or Q-Snap frame but it’s just fine to work with the fabric lying flat on a table. If you don’t use a frame, make sure you don’t pull your thread too tight to pucker the fabric.

Find scraps or cut small pieces of lightweight fabric, somewhere between postage-stamp size and business-card size. Arrange them on your fabric to make a pleasing design. Sketch or photograph the design if you think you won’t be able to remember it, then remove the pieces (maybe you want to put them on a tray or table in the same design). Put one piece back onto the fabric and sew it down in any way you like. Sew on the other pieces one by one. Use as much stitching as you like to attach the pieces and tie the design together.

If you’re hand stitching, the easiest way to start is with plain old running stitches, in rows or grids. You could also experiment with variations, such as:
• small stitches vs. long stitches
• closely spaced rows vs. widely spaced
• uniform stitch length vs. irregular length
• uniform spacing of the rows vs. irregular spacing
• straight rows of stitching vs. curves or zigzags
• knots on the back vs. knots and/or thread ends on the front
• make an occasional diagonal or perpendicular row of stitches that crosses your other rows.

If you’re machine stitching, you can use plain straight stitches or something fancier such as zigzags or wavy lines. Again, experiment with variations, such as:
• machine stitching in straight rows vs. curves or scribbles
• tightly packed vs. very sparse stitching
• zigzag or decorative machine stitches
• machine stitching on top of hand stitching, and vice versa
• different proportions of hand stitching and machine stitching.

Either by hand or by machine, feel free to experiment with your threads. Combine two or three lightweight threads of different colors or materials, putting them in the same needle. Try specialty threads such as metallics. Remember that embroidery floss comes with six strands; you can separate it into smaller bundles and/or combine colors. Use a larger or smaller needle if necessary as you change threads.

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

Remember, even good girls might like a date with a bad boy every now and then.  Have fun!


  1. How fun this sounds. I linked to your blog on mine today! I need some fabric play time and you've just provided the recipe for me. Thanks!

  2. Jane -- I hope you come up with something you like!