lobsterdesigns: (Waterlily quilt)
[personal profile] lobsterdesigns
I'll probably add to this post bit by bit over the next few days, so watch this space. Meanwhile, there's a picture below the cut. I didn't come up with the design myself, it's from Ruth McDowell's Piecing Workshop (you can see hers on the back cover), but that still left plenty for me to do. Now I just have to get up the courage to learn how to use my new sewing machine and try to get it quilted in time for [livejournal.com profile] ghost_of_a_flea's mother's birthday in mid-January.

Designing: McDowell gives you a template to work from, which annoyingly is printed on two sides of the same piece of paper and thus makes tracing a bitch (even more since I'd run out of masking tape and had to hold it all down with paperweights. I'm not making that mistake again). She shows photos of her version, a piecing diagram which breaks it up into sections, a reversed diagram marked up for seam pressing direction (for about 3/4 of the seams; frankly this book should have been better proofread), and a discussion on choosing fabrics. I used slightly more fabrics than she did, but I think both versions work well.

Fabrics: These were all batiks unless stated otherwise. As advised by McDowell, I began with choosing the fabrics for the background, then the leaves, then the reflection, then the petals, then the centres. I don't have a design board, so I had to do the whole thing in one day on the dining table and make sure not to knock pieces. I'm going to get a design board for next time, probably a cork noticeboard.

For the water, I chose 9 fabrics. A black with an irregular stripe effect in very dark green; a navy with turquoise dots; an oak leaf pattern that was basically navy with touches of medium green and occasionally bronze; a blue-violet fabric with red-violet sprigs (not used much, only a little in the top left); a design of squares and rectangles that was dark blue background and had shades of dark green and red-violet; a dark navy with a soft green swirly pattern reminiscent of waves and bubbles; a black with dots in curved lines (the parts I used were brown and green, but the dots come in a variety of colours); a darkish dull blue batik; and a charcoal grey-based design with touches of blues, purples and the odd green in a sort of fan design. I mostly placed the fabrics so that they sat well with their neighbours and were well-spaced overall, including how the different colours flowed across the quilt, but I was careful with the overall spacing of the fabrics with dots, and also the navy with green swirls, as the patterns showed up more there. I think they balance very well.

For the lily pads, I used seven green fabrics. A duller bronzey-green plain batik; a brighter yellow-green with rough strips in dark bronze; a somewhat lighter and greyer yellow-green with patches of little dotted lines/bits of stripes; a pine tree design; another fabric in a similar green with rows of slightly curved lines; a tie-dye that was a little darker and had touches of blue-green and orange-yellow; and a green that stood out as it was more towards blue-green, with a sea urchin design on it in spring green. As advised by McDowell, where there were stripes on or suggested by the fabric, I angled them towards the centres of the lily pads. Lily pads veins radiate out whereas the stripes on the fabrics all went the same way, so I experimented a little with how to angle them, sometimes cutting the pieces too large so that I could play with them against the pieces already laid out.

The reflection was all cut from a single hand-dye in shades of pastel blue and green with touches of gold and violet. It was tricky finding enough pieces of green, as I imiated McDowell in making the reflected petals of a particular colour for each petal.

I used 6 or 7 fabrics for the petals, I'm finding it hard to distinguish them apart by now. One was a very pale lavender with light blue spots, and another was an even paler blue Fossil Fern. The rest varied from pure white to cream; for the darkest, I actually used the back of the fabric. The brighter whites went at the front, and the creams at the back. They were mostly plains, but there was a white with a wax print of roses in another white on it, and a light cream with a subtly shiny overlay of white on top. To my relief, the seam allowances didn't show through despite being almost always pressed underneath the petals in order to raise them up.

I'm not mad about the two fabrics used for the stamens, but they were the best I had. They should really be a bit less muted, and the lower part of the stamens should be a tad darker. The upper part is a soft gold Fossil Fern, and the lower part is a Makower Ombre, which has a faint stripe effect.

Making the template and marking up the template and fabrics: McDowell suggests using a Sharpie pen to trace the template onto freezer paper on the shiny side, using ultra-fine for most of the lines and fine for the section lines. The idea is that you don't have to mess around with doing reversed patterns, you just trace straight on. I'll see how it is when I'm tracing off something easier, but since my hands aren't too steady I may try making a reverse drawing of the original (presumably turning the paper over and putting it over a light source would do) and tracing from that onto the dull side, so that I can trace in pencil and make the lines smoother in pen, using the flexible ruler for instance. It would also provide me with a reversed image, which is useful at times, though I'd have to write REVERSE all over it so as not to get them muddled up! She's correct that the Sharpie markers are good and don't smudge, though. Once the pattern is traced, you turn the freezer paper over and start marking up the dull side. As there were only five general colours used (dark for the water, green for the leaves, white for the petals, yellow for the stamens, light blue/green for the reflection), I first of all marked up the template with W, L, P, S and R in pencil so that I knew which was which, and then used different colours for each when writing the template number (e.g. Q16) onto each piece. I may need to use letters as well in the future if I end up using a larger range of colours.

She then recommends drawing a straight line in highlighter around the outside edge, since it's important that pieces touching that edge have their grain straight to it; more highlighter lines on individual pieces if they needed to be in a particular direction; and going over the section lines in highlighter. I rather stupidly used yellow highlighter for the first two, and green for the third. This meant that my tic marks had to battle their way through a fairly strong area of green, so that the lines had to be longer, which was particularly tough in areas where there were lots of tic marks in a small space and/or very acute angles. Next time I'll use yellow for the section lines, and I'm thinking of trying out highlighter pencils.

The main problem was doing the tic marks. McDowell suggests wax-based pencils, and after ringing around a bit I got through to a major manufacturer, Derwent, who reckoned that their Coloursoft range was the sort of thing meant. They seem to be doing the job nicely. I'm glad I went for the set of 36, I had enough trouble with that range finding a large enough set of colours that would show up well against all or most of the fabrics and be instantly distinguishable from each other. Even so, I may end up getting a few more. I used 11 colours and could have done with a couple more, it was like doing the four-colour map problem in some areas.

Anyway, the problem was that McDowell suggests a single line (or a double line, or a dot or square or what have you; I only used the double line alternative) along single seams, and a cross at where two or more seams join. This was seriously awkward when there were lots of seams joining in a small area and/or acute angles, and it didn't distinguish between where the seams form a sort of X (the first two on the left in my diagram, in green and brown), and where they were offset (the fuchsia and blue ones) and basically a Y seam. When working with lots of tiny pieces, that distinction became important. More to the point, there just wasn't the space for that many little crosses at seam junctions, especially when there was green highlighter in the way as well. Quite a lot of my tic marks ended up slightly out of synch, and while I pretty much got it working in the end, I think the sewing would have been easier and smoother if they had been more accurate. The pencils don't hold a sharp point particularly well either, which doesn't help.

It might take a while to get used to, but I'm proposing the following method. For Y seam joins, there will be a single line on each piece. For X seam joins, a +, which is easier to do in a narrow space. For single seams, an X, || or dot. If I need more, I could do a triangle with the point on the seam. I think the greater variety in shapes will make it easier to distinguish between pieces, especially with a limited number of colours to mark with (some don't show up well on all fabrics).

For marking up the fabrics, I got into the habit of giving each piece a quick press first, in case the template was coming loose. I marked up one section at a time before sewing it. I used a 4B pencil on most of the fabrics, and a white Coloursoft for the dark fabrics. I became very grateful that I'd bought that battery-operated pencil sharpener. Both pencils wore down quickly, I'll have to stock up on them, and the white doesn't produce a fantastically thin line, but it's still the best I've found, and both glide across the fabric quite easily. I sewed on the line for the 4B pencil, and just inside it for the white Coloursoft. No markings were visible on the front of the completed quilt.

Sewing: This went fairly well, with the odd confusion over too many tic marks in a small space. A couple of the curved seams aren't quite as smooth as I'd like, which I think is due to drawing and/or cutting the line on the template slightly wonky, but it's not at a level anyone else will notice. Looking at the quilt now, it's not lying 100% flat, but it's probably doing very well and will be fine once it's quilted. In some lights and at the wrong angle, you can see very slight puckering along some bits of seams, mostly the areas where there are lots of small pieces (the reflection). I think this is due to the tic mark accuracy problem. I sewed the top over 6 sessions, of which a couple were very short. Much quicker than expected. I had to work out pressing directions myself for about a third of the seams, either because McDowell hadn't put them in or because she'd suggested pressing the seam open, which may be fine for machine-piecing but isn't for hand-piecing. It probably did me good, it meant that I thought about that side of things more. The curves were all very gentle and easy to sew.

I lost piece S10, and after ransacking the place I ended up making another version. That'll teach me to keep my pieces in a folder or other container.

General thoughts: It's a lovely little wall hanging. It's not quite my style in the sense of something I'd keep myself, perhaps it's a shade too girly. It's also very dark, which is effective enough but would take over any room decorated in light tones, and I think I'll need to explore light backgrounds for anything I'm planning to put up in our flat. I've found another version of this quilt here, and it's useful to compare with as it does follow McDowell's instructions very closely apart from having lighter fabrics for the reflection. I think the quilting thread used on the water is too light: McDowell says she used a white for quilting around the petals and a variegated thread shading from blue to white on the water. This quilter possibly used a plain white, but either way, I think I'll use the light blue I already have in, which shades from medium to light blue. I also think the binding needs a bit more colour, probably in the green/yellow area as McDowell suggests. It could be the flash, or the greyer tone of the background fabrics, but this other version does seem a little dead in comparison with mine. I've seen another version, cut but not yet sewn, here, which does the opposite: lighter fabrics than McDowell uses, a brighter and altogether different effect. It's also reversed!

I think it's the background that really makes it. You can do art quilts by using appliqué or collage, where instead of sewing all the pieces to each other on the same level, you fuse pieces on top of each other. Frankly I think it barely counts as quilting, and it certainly doesn't give the same level of interest as the background will usually be all one piece. I've occasionally seen it done very well, and frequently seen it done very badly. I love the way the two fabrics with spots work, and the way the different background fabrics draw your eye around the quilt and create variations in texture and light. Working with someone else's design did feel a bit like I was obediently copying someone else, but it gave just enough scope for creativity that it felt like my own baby, and more importantly, took away some of the elements of designing so that I could focus on a a more manageable amount for my first real art quilt. I've learnt a goodly amount and feel more confident about making my own design from scratch next time.

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