Friday, March 23, 2012

Made to measure

I am one of the artists participating in an upcoming exhibit sponsored by Studio Art Quilt Associates, which will make its debut in Houston this fall and later travel here and there.  It's called "Seasonal Palette," which as you might expect deals with the different colors that represent or evoke the seasons.  We were juried into the exhbit last summer by submitting images of some of our quilts, and by choosing a season and specifying which colors we would use to depict it.

Surprisingly, a disproportionate number of the selected artists wanted to do winter (and I was one of them).  Some of those chosen for the show were assigned other seasons, but I was fortunate to get to keep my first choice.  I think it had to do with my remarks about being inspired by my trip to Antarctica.  Something about that continent commands awe and respect even in those who haven't been there.

So several months later, I've just about finished my entry for the show.  Just the sleeves to attach, and I'm ready to send my baby off into the world.  I am really pleased with what came out of this challenge.  I think the quilt does a good job of evoking the huge glaciers and icebergs that I saw in Antarctica.

What's on my mind this week, though, is the particular twist of this assignment that has to do with measurements.  Specifically, we were told to make our completed quilts 32" by 78".  Obviously this will result in a cohesive installation, but achieving it is not as easy as you might think. I've only constructed to a specified dimension a couple of times in the past, again in order to conform to the rules of a prestigious traveling exhibit.  And it was just as hard this time as it was in the past.

You may think you know exactly what to do -- you block out the given length and width on your design wall and arrange your composition within those boundaries.  You make it larger than you really need, knowing you'll have to trim off some at the end.  But wait.  Constructing a quilt isn't like making a painting -- you can't just design something that seems like it's going to be 32 inches wide and have it actually turn out that way.  Instead you make it 34 inches wide and expect to trim some off at the end (and hope the extra two inches are enough).

For instance, look at my unquilted top on the design wall -- it kind of oozes toward the right as it goes downward.  Once it gets squared up will it still be wide enough?  Will I have to slant the ruler as I trim it to its final dimensions? 

The wild card, of course, is the quilting.  I ended up quilting this piece in parallel lines that went across the narrow width of the quilt.

In parallel line quilting, you always find that the fabric takes up between the lines of stitching; the cross section, if you could see it, transforms neat, flat layers of fabric into bulges that would look like figure eights.  If you were to grab the top and bottom and pull them taut, everything would stretch out a bit, but in ordinary display that's not going to happen.

As a result, what I thought was plenty long enough ended up not.  I lost more than three inches in height because of the quilting, to the extent that when I got to the bottom edge of the quilt, I had to stop quilting and add more pieced fabric to the left side of that diagonal edge to make it 78 inches long. 

With this quilt it was no big deal -- I just found more of the fabric I had been using, pieced a new triangular section in which some of the existing pieced lines were continued, folded back the batting and backing and sliced off the pieced top on a diagonal, then sewed the new section to it.  Everything got folded back to its proper place and pressed, and I continued the quilting till I got to the (now longer) bottom edge.

After I measured the width of the quilted piece, I decided I couldn't risk quilting a whole new set of vertical lines, because I didn't have much width to spare and couldn't easily augment the quilt because the horizontal quilting lines stopped at the original edges.

More important, with this quilt cutting to fit was no big deal because the pattern really isn't a major element in the design.  The expanse of fabric in certain values is important, but who cares if a little triangle of piecing disappears or has to be extended?  By contrast, if you're working with an actual design rather than an expanse of similar fabrics, it can cause real problems if you have to cut off a certain shape to make your quilt exactly so wide and tall.

Layout 2 --  a quilt that was in an internationally touring show several years ago that had to be 52 inches square.  When I finally quilted it and cut it to size, the design was somewhat of a surprise.

I'd much rather work unencumbered by specifications: making the quilt so it looks right, then finishing it and discovering at the end how big it turns out to be.  Making to measure adds another fiddly dimension to quilting that I'd just as soon do without.


  1. The piece looks great and you were fortunate that you were able to accommodate the addition of fabric. This could really be a huge issue for some work which relied on very specific relationships. Nice.

  2. wow, great piece! i knew it was wintery before i read the description.

    thank you for the info about the finished size of a quilt... as a new quilter, it's something i've never considered.

  3. Spectacular work! I love your description of getting it to fit the specified measurement--always a conundrum after serious quilting. Can't wait to see it in person someday.

  4. Your piece captures the color and eloquent fractured lines of glacial ice beautifully.

    It would be very interesting to have an interview of other artists in the Seasonal Palette show addressing how they handled the size requirement, whether it changed their work or influenced their outcome. I will be thinking of this when I see the other pieces.

    Thanks for sharing ahead of time. :)

  5. Kathy
    This piece is just gorgeous! Congratulations on being selected for the show, but especially for creating this magnificent work.

  6. thanks to everybody for your kind words! I am very proud of this piece, and also pleased that I was able to do justice to the magnificence of Antarctica.