Monday, August 30, 2010

Gotta start somewhere

And this is it. I've been spending the last few days playing with my poppies and peonies idea. Basically, I wanted to try incorporating the specific colors of the poppies and peonies that bloom side by side in my garden into a quilt. I've been wanting to try Alison Schwabe's freehand curved piecing technique ever since I saw it in Quilters Newsletter Magazine back in 2004. Yeah, time flies. I thought her method might work well to create the abstract rendition I had in mind. Since I have very little of the "perfect" poppy orange, I knew my first go at this would be done with other fabric. I nearly fell into the trap of looking looking looking for another close match. I do this all the time, this hang-up with literalism that wastes so much of my time. I settled on these 5 inch charm squares left over from my days in the hand-dyed fabric business. Yes, the orange is stronger than my poppies, but who except me would know?

Actually, you should start with pieces wider in one direction, but since I wanted to end up with rectangles, these squares were ok. You start by stacking two pieces of fabric right sides up and cutting two gentle curves across them using a rotary cutter. And when I say gentle curves, I mean gentle curves. I was surprised how quickly a curve can become a challenge to pin and sew without puckers.

Then separate the layers, trading the center sections; each pair of squares makes two blocks when you cut this way for a single insert of color. I was thinking this was one of those no mark no pin methods which is so out of my comfort zone, so I was relieved to find that you butt the pieces next to each other and place hash marks across the cut edges to aid in matching in the next step. You can see the marks (made on the right side of the fabric) if you click on the picture for a larger view.

From here you treat this like any curved piecing. Don't be afraid to use as many pins as necessary, starting from the center and working out. Pin such that any fullness will be on the bottom as it runs through the sewing machine. And avoid sewing over the pins.

There may be marking and some matching and pinning, but there is no need for accurate 1/4" seams. In fact, this goes much easier with narrower seams, and I settled on using the inside of my presser foot toe as a guide. That gave me a seam allowance of about 1/8 inch. That might be a problem with fabric that isn't as tightly woven as batiks and hand dyes, but it worked fine here.

This is why you would normally start with fabric wider in one direction. The seams are going to start shrinking your block. With two seams I've already gone from 5 inches to less than 4-1/2.

The problem with this method - well the problem for me - is that it gives you positive/negative blocks. I actually need blocks with the green always reading as the background. And it was quickly obvious that only 1 insert per block did not give me any decent designs or flow when I tried arranging them.

So I thought a bit and reasoned that I could stack two different blocks and make a single cut, trading the cut-off piece and sewing it back on to make more complex blocks. (The right side of these blocks are what was cut off and traded.)

Not all blocks could accommodate another cut like that, so I thought some more and reasoned that I could still do curved cuts in order to join two blocks together. All it takes is to keep them face up and overlap slightly, keeping the cut on the overlap. Ah, I like this best and know how I can use this idea to conserve fabric and have a bit more control over the design. I like that this is a free-form and somewhat random process yet still has some of the vestiges of control in the marking and pinning.

What I'm not crazy about is the finished product. I like the color palette, but admit it, you've seen this quilt before. Anyone who learns these freehand curved methods is going to end up with similar looking quilts, things that look too much like the teacher's. Just changing the orientation from Alison's horizontal to my vertical to mimic swaying flowers isn't enough. The trick now would be to figure out how to put my signature on this. And that is going to take some thought.


Wil Opio Oguta said...

How about mixing horizontal with vertical blocks?

Cathie said...

Ahh the "creative process." That's what's going on here. I love what you're doing with this - coming up with an idea and venturing out to make it happen. So far very nice results. The colors are very "poppy" and your curves ever so gentle. What's next with this?

The Idaho Beauty said...

Don't know for sure yet, Cathie, but I'm leaning toward adding some photo transfers of poppies and peonies. Maybe taking the rows apart and staggering them. Maybe moving on to the next idea in the sketchbook which makes the red and orange the background and the insets green stems! Yup, it's definitely a process...