Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Light and Dark in the City

Quilt No. 108
December 2015

Every so often a challenge will come your way.  Sometimes you duck it, sometimes you plunge head long into it, throwing caution and your underwear into the wind.  Light and Dark in the City was kind of like that.  And it all started with a paper bag.

A couple of weeks before Christmas a “paper bag challenge” was announced at quilt guild.  It works like this.  Fabric, notions and sometimes other non-cloth fibre items are put into a small paper bag.  Batting is included, and the quilter who receives the bag must make a small quilt with only the items found in the bag. She can use her own thread and tools, but she may not add any fabric to it.  Sounds pretty simple.  Until you open the bag.

Some of the items in the paper bag.
I’ve never gotten to do one of these before.  Generally, there are only two paper bags, for two lucky quilters.  People who want to give this a shot put their names in a draw.  This particular time not too many people entered.  Everyone was eyeball deep in Christmas preparations at home and the project had to be completed by the next meeting, a measly two weeks away.  My odds of winning one of the bags were considerably better than usual with fewer names in the draw.  And I was pretty darn pleased when my name was announced. 

The bag contained about twenty pieces of fabric in solid colours, or “solids” in quilt world jargon.  The colours were completely random, not necessarily colours you would intuitively partner up together.  There was one print – a black fabric with small white dots.  All these pieces were fairly small and varied in size.  Also included was a placemat sized piece of batting, and two larger pieces of black cotton.  And...a tiny baggie with  red, green, and black woolish pieces in it.  I heard someone behind me say, “Oh, there’s roving too.”  I pretended to know what that meant.  Someone else said, sagely, “Ah, for felting.”  Roving? Felting?  Was it too late to re-raffle the paper bag?  I was supposed to create a quilt and learn how to felt in two weeks?  All while Christmasing-up my house? Gulp.

I brought the paper bag home and placed the pieces on my quilting table.  There were a lot of longish strips – immediately the idea of doing skyscrapers came to me.  I am quite fond of quilting cities (Before, Blue collar).  There wasn’t a lot of time to ruminate about it.  Sometimes I can spend way more than two weeks just thinking about a quilt before I start designing.  This was not going to be one of those times. 

 "Before" a city quilt I made after 9/11.
To get myself started I consulted my favourite coffee table book, Skyscrapers.  This book profiles several famous buildings and gets your mind past the idea that all buildings are tall boxes that are stubbornly rectangular.  It launched my project with a few buildings that were varied in shape, allowing me to comfortably default back to my own building creations...all of which were rectangular boxes. 

I wanted to create a harbour skyline, a long one.  However, this was limited by the size of the batting, which was cut to the dimensions of a placemat.  Ha!  Limiting factor or not, I could at least alter the batting into a long and narrow shape by cutting and piecing it, two activities that basically define quilting.  This generated a new limiting factor – I now had a maximum of 8 ½ inches for those tall skyscrapers.  Not much room left for the water – and no city skyline looks quite right unless it’s on water.  Night time city skylines also have those grand reflections in the harbour water – I wanted to capture those too.  There was just enough room to squeeze in some light reflections using my favourite shiny rayon thread.

To use up the roving - whatever it is - I machine quilted over it to create clouds.  Learning to felt would have to wait for another day.  Or another challenge. 

I finished the piecing and the quilting and turned to my carefully conserved strips of black that I’d saved for the binding.  I was four inches short.  I had three other pieces left that were big enough to help me out – white, hot pink, and the black/white dot piece.  I decided to use the hot pink. To make it look like I’d planned it that way all along, I ran the pink fabric through the printer and printed out the name of the quilt on it.  After many test pieces I was able to sew it on so that the words lined up centered in the quarter inch wide piece of pink on the binding.  Alas, the pink was then too dominant and distracting.  I fused in some strips of black to de-emphasize it as much as I could.  It would have to do – painting black over the pink would have sent me straight to the cheater’s list.

Julie and Linda with their tale of two cities.
I willed myself not to email Linda, the quilter who was doing the same challenge, to see if she would divulge what subject she had chosen for her paper bag project.  When it came time to reveal the quilts at the meeting, we were flabbergasted to find that both of us had created cities.  The cities were radically different with mine horizontal and narrow and distant, and hers an intimate close-up of a warm urban place with an actual felted tree and a felted roof. 

I would have to say that I truly learned a lot from this challenge.  But, nope, I didn't learn how to do felting. I'm saving that for another day.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Never Forget

Quilt No. 47 January 2006 / machine quilting completed November 2015

One minute of silence seems hardly enough time in which to reflect on the wars of the past, let alone the worries of the present.  But in 2005, as I sat at my desk at work, the one minute of silence on Remembrance Day was enough time to have the entire design of this quilt slip past the background of my thoughts.  I put it on paper, and began working on it soon after, completing the quilt in January 2006.  The quilt has since traveled around to a few Remembrance Day displays, but I was never quite content with it.

By 2015 I had an additional decade of quilting experience under my belt, having completed over 100 quilts.  I was “renovating” some of my older quilts – a great way to practice my machine quilting skills.  Just like archery, restringing your banjo, and taxidermy, machine quilting is a skill.  And the only way to acquire a skill is to practice it. Yes, your teachers, your mother and those pesky nuns who taught you piano were all right.  You have to practice.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking that James Bond automatically knew how to slay bad guys, woo beautiful women, and fly any object with wings and a motor.  He had to spend plenty of time practicing all that stuff until he got it perfect.  Machine quilting is exactly the same, minus the bullets and the helicopters.

I was convinced machine quilting this piece would be a couple of afternoon’s work.  Possibly my eyes were crusted over with stupidity – it’s hard to imagine a more inaccurate time line for a project. I first went with a fairly widely spaced round of quilting.  It looked so bad I thought I might have to demote it and use it as a door mat.  At the back door.  I then got serious about doing this quilt right, and machine stitched carefully around every object on the quilt.  Also, the poppies had originally been meant to look as though they were lying on the lawn.  I know.  It never worked for me either.  I added in stems and leaves to push the poppies into the foreground where they belonged.  I then very closely machine quilted the entire quilt.  This caused the side borders to puff out like relentless waves rolling in on a beach.  No matter how much quilting I added to the borders they would not be tamed.  Ultimately, like many things that are defiant without explanation, they had to be cut loose.  Chopped.  Banished.  After all, there was the good of the whole to consider.  A fitting philosophy perhaps, for a quilt depicting the results of war. 

The above photo shows the machine quilting on the back of Never Forget