Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Floating Squares Quilt and A Roundabout Way of Getting Inspired

I've been in a little bit of a funky, funk lately. Summer blues? Who really knows, but the fact is, while I'm piddling away on all my many applique projects (which I still love), I'm a bit bored. And lethargic. So I'm taking a kind of side step in the hopes of challenging my brain to wake up, not that I'm giving up the applique projects. Heaven forbid!
My Quilty Chaos quilt
A lot of little things led to this idea of mine. It usually works that way with me. Sort of a trickle down, pile it up effect. First of all, the quilt above. While we were having a boat load of company a couple weekends ago, my oldest daughter dug out this quilt and piled it on top of the little nest she makes whenever her bedroom's been taken over by our guests. It's one I worked on over a year ago for Sherri Lynn Wood's Improv. Handbook as one of the test quilters. I graded it as a big fat fail at the time, but now I'm starting to see things to actually like about it. Things that might help me get somewhere in that never ending 'personal style' quest that I seem to be on all the time.

I did buy Sherri's book recently, but I can't seem to read it. My brain kind of freezes at all the design terminology and says 'Hey! NOT imputing up here!' Anne talked recently about studying this book, working her way through the scores, {such a great idea} and then made a fun version of this same floating squares score. In an email conversation, she mentioned Stephie's version and of course I had to go take a look at that too. Wowsers, I do so admire their courage with fabric and color! Also, thanks to Lynne, I've had this interesting idea of making single color quilts from fabric that's languishing way deep in the stash. It may not be our favorite fabric today, but it's definitely worth hacking into, right? And I do so adore a frugal make-do sort of quilt.....
The first units
Oh yeah. So with all that tumbling through my busy, summer-drained, but mildly interested brain, I decided to revisit this particular experiment. Why did I think it was a fail exactly? Because there are definitely elements of this quilt that I rather like, in spite of everything I don't! Okay. For starters, the process was, to put it bluntly, quite terrifying to me. With a capital T. Very un-orderly with absolutely no clear vision of the end result. I'm not always a big fan, no matter how adventuresome you might think I am. It felt like white-knuckled winter driving to me.
Putting them together into blocks and auditioning other fabrics
I literally had to push, prod and make myself get through the process. Friends, it wasn't the least bit fun until I finally had a kind of breakthrough, allowing myself to set a few boundaries, cheat on a couple of the 'limits' and finally decide on a finishing-up plan. How improv. is that?
Settling on a design layout and where the block overlap should be....
I admit to loving the learning how to sew gentle curves and getting the chunky, funky blocks together into something less than straight line rows. That was the very best part. Because I am soooo lame. And why did I put the improv. units into blocks anyway? That still bothers me even though it's probably my default  position and the only way I could get through what felt like absolute chaos.
Learning how to cut and sew gentle curves...
But who cares if they're being lame when something starts getting fun? Just take a rotary cutter and roll it through both layers in a gentle motion, going in where the blocks go in and trying to be very organic about it all. Sew it together slowly and bingo! We've got curves! Something to store away in that bag of quilting skills we pack around. Try as I may, I had never quite got the hang of it before....
Playing with exactly where the curve should be....
I used my entire design wall and a little extra, trying to make sure the quilt was always laying flat, flat, flat. Honestly, it was the first time I was almost bitter about not having a real, honest-to-goodness sized design wall!
Starting to sew the quilt top together....
I sewed up those short, 4-block rows into a big square and then added on the others sides until Ta-da! A quilt top with raggedy edges. Which I didn't know what to do with AT ALL. Why chop off all the edges into perfectly straight cornered quilt with so much quilty chaos going on inside? I didn't want my quilt to hang completely wonky and look unkempt. {Remember, I generally make fairly traditional looking quilts and this was painful to see.}

This was another frightening moment, with me actually perspiring and getting a headache, until I made the decision to add on a solid border. Just cage it all in. {Refer to the first picture in the post.} Which again, sort of defeats the idea of WooHoo! Look at me, I'm sewing Improv. style! But it really did help me so very much to come to terms with getting an actual finish in. That felt huge even though I was pretty sure Sherri would not approve. I quickly forgave myself for imagined shortcomings and made the deadline, knowing it would never be chosen for the book.*sigh
One big quilt top, minus the border that hopped on...
It's so hard to learn new things--the anxiety, fear, almost physical drag that we feel on our body in making the attempt. Stepping out into the unknown and pushing through.*whew  I felt pretty wrung out and yes, a bit exhilarated too, believe it or not. Because I did finish. I pushed through something that felt nearly impossible for my very structured, creatively challenged brain to absorb and comprehend.

Then I left it alone except for some of that gentle curve stuff. Such a good feeling to have a good, solid grasp on that particular process at least!
My first hunt for long forgotten greens....
And now I'm thinking about doing my own sort of series, which I always find challenging and interesting no matter how appalling my fabric choices. I'm going to start out with Score #1 in 'The Improv. Handbook for Modern Quilters: A Guide to Creating, Quilting, and Living Courageously'. haha  Except for the word 'Modern', the title could have been written for me. And yes, that's the Floating Squares score. Again. Only this time done in greens from the very bottom of the big green tote. {Some of these lovelies have probably been in there since the late 90's in case you were wondering.}
Adding a bit of spark....
Maybe a bit more of the sparky greens to help? Yep, that already appears more lively even though it's utterly safe and bland looking. It's feels like a very comfortable starting point, just saying. And I need to get started. There's been something nagging away at me lately that makes me feel like this experimentation is very necessary for my continued growth as a quilter. Does that make sense? Truly, I feel better already just for having a plan to purposely hack away at some fabric. Especially because none of it's important enough to make me cry if perchance it gets ruined in the process! And don't worry. I'll play with the good stuff at a later date. A big thanks to everyone who helped inspire me in this series as it already feels fun and not nearly as scary-hairy as the last go-round. *Nobody paid me to try and persuade you to buy this book....


  1. Hey, I really like what you did! Even without the border, I think it looks fab! the colors are awesome. It's good to s-t-r-e-t-c-h, despite feeling sometimes painful and awkward, but you feel better afterwards, right? Hm, that sounds like quite an interesting book...need to add it to the ever growing list!

  2. This was very interesting, watching you tackle something outside your level of comfort.
    I'm still struggling with 'wonky' - I pieced some small birds that I love, but it was really hard to just slash fabric and sew it together without calculating or measuring. I finally realized it was pride getting in my way - I felt like doing less than my best was a stab in my own back...

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  4. I always applaud you for your desire to stretch and grow in your quilt making. It's scary to think and sew outside the comfort zone

  5. It turned out as a fun quilt, it sort of seems to move and I love the colors.

  6. I like the colorfulness of your quilt and the way you made two smaller blocks of your squares. The colors flow across the quilt better. Like you, I worked too hard making blocks rather than letting the units have more movement. Stephie's is a good quilt to study. She arranged it so artistically. But, hey, we both got the quilts done.
    Mine is still a top. I'm planning to quilt concentric circles. It looks like you did that, too.
    Your idea of using some old stuff with a few brighter new ones sounds great!

  7. Oh this looks so great.
    What a nice way to use scraps. Love it.

  8. Looks like Lethargic didn't last very long! :) :)

  9. sometimes I think it is the summer heat or the fact that we finish one or two quilts and then our minds actually need to take a break from quilting. Since I finished two quilts one after another the last couple days I have barely taken a stitch - it is like I just have to empty my mind - I know what I will work on next but it is picking it up to get started that had me the last couple of days - I just didn't feel like it - but I think I do now.

  10. I think you are to hard on yourself. I love this quilt! And although your improv is not as out there as others it's yours and that is the wonderful thing about improv.

  11. Such interesting comments. It's amazing how we can talk ourselves into stopping a project. I guess it just takes time to appreciate the work we've already done. The greens look great to me. I've been thinking I need to make a quilt using generations of fabrics, repros, brights, country, patriotic, novelty, you name it. It just sounds playful.

  12. Oh my. I have not seen Shari Lynn's book, but now I need to take the time and look over those quilts in the link. I remember when I tried cutting fabric without using a ruler- just wavy lines- and sewing them back together, it was like trying to write with my left hand. I wish I was better at it, but I'm not sure about all that improve stuff. I can dabble, but can't totally commit (not sure I understand it either). Bravo on your Chaos quilt. Love the name of it too.
    Sounds like you're busting through the summertime blues with those green fabrics. Can't wait to see what you come up with. I bet it's going to be fun :)
    As usual, always a good thought provoking discussion about quilting going on over here.

  13. The soft greens you've gathered will make a great summer quilt, they just look cool and comfy. I'd have a hard time cutting up large pieces of fabric for this kind of quilt, but it "might" put a dent in some of the scrap bags!

  14. thanks for this interesting post...I'm a most traditional prim quilter and would find it hard to do this sort of work too...but love the Gee's Bend quilts so maybe you you're giving me a little nudge too...

  15. Well done you for persistence. You're a braver woman than me! And it looks great!!

  16. Love your finished quilt... there's a great mix of fabrics there! I too have the book, kinda need to be brave & try our one or two ideas!

  17. Thanks for sharing your roller coaster experience with Sherry Lynn's book. I have her book but don't feel comfortable with her scores, but I love how you made one your own -- white knuckles or no. It is so very different than your usual quilts, but still a beauty. Maybe this is my push to try one myself.....

  18. Sherri Lynn's book sounds great but it's only one way of approaching improv: I think there's no point in trying to be someone you're not; the aim is to pick out the bits that work for you and jettison what doesn't. So, setting some rules, then breaking them when it suits is exactly my sort of improv :-) I really like the idea of working in a series of single colour quilts - a very interesting way to take this forward.

  19. Thanks for talking about this! I found it really interesting to get someone else's insight into approaching making quilts and improv quilting. My usual way is to plan everything ahead of time, but recently that means that I then don't want to make it. I've taken away any element of surprise or discovery along the way. But to begin with no plan, just fabric and a rotary cutter is too much and I become paralyzed at the thought of it. I need to go somewhere in between. I can only hope that beginning to explore this barrier will lead to more fun while quilting. I bought Sherri Lynn's book too, and I've read parts of it, dipping in and out but I've had to take big breaks in between. It's like the ideas need to percolate and you need to see what's useful to you and true to what you do. I can see it taking me a long time to get through the whole book, but it's something I'm really looking forward to doing. It's very different to any other quilt book I've come across.

    PS hope the fires are still staying on the other side of the river, thinking of you and your family!


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