Friday, January 15, 2016

Deep in the Scrappy Forest

Quilt No 109
January 2016

A frog pops his head up from behind a rock.  He surveys all that he sees.  It’s definitely frog-worthy.  He's met the challenge - he’s deep in a scrappy forest.

I’m beginning to suspect that maybe, just maybe, having limits placed on you might make you a better quilter.  Oddly, this same philosophy applies to child rearing as well.  Too many loosey­-goosey parameters and the quilt or child becomes a wild and unruly beast, an annoyance to everyone in its sphere of influence.  But...add a few limitations and you get just enough latitude to nudge it along to become all that it can be.

This year’s annual guild challenge was to make a “scrappy quilt”.  This means to take all the leftovers from other quilts and make a new quilt out of those. To accommodate quilters at all levels challenges are kept straight forward.  They never involve wild ideas, impossible to achieve technicalities, or the spending of giant sums of money.  Decisions about size or colour or complexity are left up to each quilter.  The fewer the restrictions, the greater the yield of quilts.  The challenge is not so much about following the rules as it is about making the theme your own.

When the scrappy quilt challenge was announced everyone turned to look at their seat mate and nodded their heads approvingly.  Yep.  Everyone had at least a refrigerator-sized pile of fabric scraps they could plunge into.  Ultimately, some people dove into their pile so many times that they made three or four quilts.  In a few cases, previously undiscovered nieces and nephews got new quilts from an aunt they’d never heard of.  

I couldn’t wait to make the challenge my own.

Two weekends after the announcement of the challenge I was at the cottage.  This is a place that is on a lake in the bush (we don’t use the word “forest” in Northern Ontario).  I go there with my sewing machine and a large box of fabric every weekend.  I also cart along a lot of other things of lesser importance, like food and water.  I’ve forgotten various components of these over the years but I’ve never forgotten my sewing machine.  I’ve never even forgotten my sewing machine cord – a common rookie error among quilting workshop attendees.  One memorable weekend I forgot the quilt I was working on.  I just started on another one with what I found in the box, and came up with the tiny quilt, Looking for Atlantis.  I decided to do a repeat performance for the scrappy quilt. 

My plan evolved.  I would make my scrap fabric quilt exclusively out of the fabrics I found in the box.  Generally, I have a couple of quilts on the go.  For every fabric I use in a quilt, a dozen different fabrics may be “auditioned” before I select the final piece, so there’s always a wide variety of fabric battling for space in the box.  Fortunately, I only need small pieces for my quilts, so I can make do with a single largish box.

I had tried to tame the bits and pieces in the box using two bags for scraps.  One had ordinary scraps and the other had scraps that had some sort of fusible material already ironed onto the back.  Fusibles allow you to iron pieces of fabric directly onto the quilt top.  All of the scraps were relatively small and irregular in shape, mere shards left from one quilt or another.  Only the tail ends of quilt binding strips had any straight edges.  I narrowed my challenge even further and vowed to make my scrappy quilt top using only the scraps in those two bags.  There!  I’d made the challenge my own

Here are a few items from the scrap bags.
 As much as possible I let the scraps dictate the composition.  Leftover appliqué trees that didn’t make it into a previous quilt were used. The longer horizontal strips near the top of the quilt suggested the curvy lines of forested hills, so I used those just the way I found them.  When I began working on the border I found I was short of fabric. I ultimately had to stray outside of the two bags from the cottage box and add in some pieces from another box of scraps at home.  It wasn’t really cheating, since they were still scraps.  And when you set the limits yourself, you’re allowed to alter them.  I came up with that rule myself.  It’s the spirit of the limits that count.

When all the scraps had coalesced their cosmic dust into the universe of a new quilt, the stars from Lost on the Ocean had found a new home.  The trees from Reach for the Stars were rediscovered, and the flowers from Horse with No Name had moved out of the desert/ocean and taken root near a swamp. The frog near the rocks had recovered from being passed over for a previous post card quilt. 

Surprisingly, the multiple layers of fused fabric I used in this quilt kept it nice and flat, suggesting that I had previously been under utilizing stabilizers.  Who knew?  By doing most of the decorative and raw edge appliqué stitching only on the quilt top everything stayed smooth.  No dreaded ripples took hold after I added the batting and backing and did the machine quilting.  And, best of all, the abandoned quilt scraps settled down happily into their new life deep in their own forest.  They would never be mere scraps again.