Wednesday, December 23, 2020

On Point Challenge Quilt

On Point Challenge Quilt
48" x 68"
for Austin Modern Quilt Guild: a service project donated to charity
I have one adult kid living at home who is not really thriving during the pandemic.  So, I decided to offer up a project, and it would require just one hour a day.  It took us about 6 weeks to complete it.  The very private adult kid has consented to let me share it here.  I am delighted to share it with you!  I definitely am feeling the parental pride thing. And the adult kid also got some pride, both from the work, and the ability to stick to a project and complete it. The quilt is lovely, and will hopefully be loved by someone who needs it.

Learning to sew rows together.
Making our way through the rows on the design wall.
The quilt also had to stay hidden from any social media because it was a contest within our guild.  After everyone finished their quilts, we had a small outdoor quilt show one Saturday and the members voted on all the quilts.  You can see all the quilts here. It was really fun to be able to see quilts in person, and also be socially distanced.  Everyone wore masks too. We didn't stay long, but it felt so good to be around a group of other quilters and see a few old friends.  I look forward to a return of social gatherings. 
I also wanted to say "thank you" to the Austin Modern Quilt Guild for supplying the backing, the batting, and a label for our project!

Friday, December 18, 2020

The Virtual Quilt Festival,

The Virtual Quilt Festival, aka, the Houston show
a review

One of my most basic reservations about virtual quilt shows is that they do not offer more than what I am already seeing on my Instagram feed. The VQF offered a large collection of exhibits, 5 contests, vendors, and classes, and possibly more. However, I was hesitant to enter my quilts this year, for a number of reasons. I had already entered a few quilts in the IQA World of Beauty exhibit.  However, that event was cancelled early this summer.  Is different good or bad or maybe some of both? 

Houston was the one show that I usually get to go to.  I live close, so it is easy for me to get away for this one.  I get to see my quilts there, and see people looking at my quilts.  I also get to see the other quilts.  It gives me both perspective and inspiration.  I don't usually take classes, so I have nothing to compare to the opportunity for virtual classes. But, mostly I get to hang out and spend time with my friends that live all over the place. This yearly retreat is the only time we see each other in person.  And for that, the virtual experience just didn't compare. 

My participation in the contests:

The price for entry was $20 per quilt.  There were only 5 quilting contests with no categories within each contest.  The IQA's judged show A World of Beauty had a lot more.  There was a total of about 250 quilts in the 5 contests, compared to about 350-400 for the IQA show. There was no information before the show regarding the number of quilts that would be accepted (which I imagine would be based on how many entries they received.) There was also no information about how prizes would be awarded, how many prizes were involved, or what the prize actually was. Perhaps more planning time would have (or could have) made a world of difference? 

I entered 3 quilts into the contests for this show.  I had two quilts accepted into the Quilting Now exhibit/contest which was a collection of modern quilts. There were 50 quilts accepted into this contest.

Two Halves


And, I had one quilt accepted into the In My Mind exhibit/contest which was a collection of art quilts. There were about 90 quilts accepted into this contest.  It was a collection of all the art quilt categories normally seen at the IQA show, A World of Beauty, and included landscapes, abstracts, representational art, digital art, etc.   

The Heron, the Kayak, and the Grebes: Part I

After I bought my $10 ticket, and the show opened, I found out that each contest had only one winner.  And while those winners were definitely well deserved, it was impossible for me to appreciate their splendor from a photo on my computer compared to being in front of the full sized quilt. This will be a problem for any virtual quilt show. The prize awards were also much lower than what had been typically offered for the IQA show, but I anticipated that. 

There were also 23 exhibits of other quilts.  This is about half the number of exhibits that are usually at the Houston quilt show, but it was more than I could see at one time.  Some of the exhibits did not appeal to me, but many others did.  I had one quilt in one of these exhibits.  It was in SAQA's exhibit Ebb & Flow. 

Floating in a Sea of Symbols

The things I liked about the Virtual Quilt Show:

1.  It was something to look forward to that was a positive thing in the midst of so many bad things in the world and in the daily news. 

2.  I liked seeing the quilts.  I enjoyed seeing quilts that I might not have run across on social media. 

3. Even though I didn't win anything, I loved having an opportunity to compete.

4. I really appreciated that the visuals of the quilts included an overall view and a closeup view and the artist's name and statement (...though I honestly wished the photo resolution had been higher).

5. I also like that my ticket allows me to view the festival for 3 months. I would also be curious to know how many people use this feature?

The things I didn't like about the Virtual Quilt Show:

1.  There were an overwhelming number of technical glitches on the entire first day.  So much frustration! Photos would not load.  argh!!! It seems like the organizers would have anticipated this and planned for a much better performance than they did.

2. There was a general lack of information about what to expect from the contests.  I also did not like having to choose a viewer's choice award from only the winners of the contests. Instead of it being about MY choice, it was "which winner did you like the best?" award.... It didn't sit right with me.

3. The experience of shopping the vendors did not even come close to the real experience.  I don't know how to make this work or what I would of liked from the vendors on a virtual platform, but this completely missed the mark for me.  It should have had a much bigger 'footprint' than a simple list of company names with links to their websites. I would have liked something more interactive, and something with a LOT more visuals and eye candy. For the little that they received, I could not see an obvious benefit of any fees they would have paid to be there.  Another technical glitch was the search bar for vendors does not allow any misspellings which makes it harder to find what you are looking for. I didn't buy anything either (or I haven't yet). And that is problematic.  We need the vendors, and they need us. I will probably just continue to shop from my regular suppliers for my needs, but I also really miss that experience of shopping in person and seeing new things. 

4. The social experience was sorely lacking.  There was one way to connect with others at the show on this platform, but it was flooded with technical complaints. *(see edit at the bottom) And, there was a surprising lack of social media connected to the event. It was mostly quiet.  Not even participants were chatting about it.  That is not good.

5. The original presentation of the quilts was via slide show (during the rare moments that the photos would load) that could be paused.  This is a small thing but it aggravated my repetitive use injuries to only be able to control the slide show with my mouse.  The arrow keys on my keyboard (to advance to the next photo) did not work.  This was later changed to a PDF format and that got better.  But with the PDF, you are limited by the resolution of the photo.  All of the quilts had minimal resolution, with the exception of the 5 prize winners.  A decision was made here about how to best present the quilts on-line, and I am not sure it was the right one...**(see edit at the bottom)

6. I missed the presence of the International Quilt Association.  As I mentioned earlier, they did not have their annual judged show.  Their judged show was the centerpiece of the International Quilt Festival, and they weren't there. The 5 contests were qualitatively not a comparable substitution. They did not have the IQA fundraising auction quilts.  They did not have the IQA raffle quilt.  And, now I have just found out that the IQA is ending. I feel incredibly sad at this loss and a bit naive that it would last forever.  It will be interesting to see if the Houston IQF (when it meets in person) will be able to fill some very large expectations.

Other Suggestions for a better virtual show.

1.  Include the sizes of the quilts on the signage.  It is virtual, we can't tell how big the quilts are.

2.  Wouldn't it be cool to have a way to add comments to quilts you liked? In terms of connecting with the artists, I think this would be awesome.  (On a personal note, I did look up a few new artists on social media to leave comments, but not everyone was on Instagram, so I missed a few). The signage also did not include ways to contact the artists, like a website, or a social media account name.  And they specifically had an entire section devoted to the artists, but it was just a list of artists and the quilts that were there, no contact information at all. That would have been really nice and presumably not that hard to add. And cross promoting artists benefits everyone.

3.  On-line reviews: This seems to be an almost automatic feature of almost anything that I buy on-line, the next day email follow-up, "please review the product you purchased" request. Virtual quilt shows should be responsive to the feedback of their participants. I have not yet received any requests for reviews. We are the customers, and IQF should want to know what our experience was and how to make it better; both because it is better for us as customers, and also because it makes good business sense.  

I understand many of the constraints that were a part of this event.  I feel like I may have been harsh in my criticisms, but I also know that a quite number of people were much harsher than I was. 

The virtual show was better than nothing, which is not very high praise.  It was all we have right now because of the pandemic, but I expected more. One thing is for certain, trying to put together a virtual quilt show is difficult. It requires an ability to change and be flexible in an ever changing and unpredictably complicated world, and this year was unprecedented in that regard. I applaud this first attempt,but I expected better from a show with such a solid reputation. The question remains: how responsive will they be to the needs of their customers (both the viewers and the vendors) and the problems they faced with this first virtual quilt show?

My hopes are that this event was at least successful enough to keep this organization in business;  because their in-person events are top notch and I look forward to their return. I also look forward to seeing how the Modern Quilt Guild runs their virtual exhibit of QuiltCon2021.  


*1. There was a more efficient way of communicating socially offered by the VQF platform.  It is unfortunate that I missed it.  You could add friends from a list of attendees so that you could have your own social hangout.  Perhaps I was in too much of a rush to see the quilts to notice this feature.  Darn it! As an aside, I also noticed on the main Virtual Cafe social page, that a number of participants were really appreciative of this venue and really enjoying their experience.

**2. I did find a way of presenting quilts at a quilt show that I just absolutely loved and had forgotten about it.  It was at the Schweinfurth's Quilts=Art=Quilts virtual exhibit.  They had a virtual gallery where you could 'walk' through the rooms to explore the quilts.  It showed quilts hanging next to each other, and you could zoom in on the quilts.  Of course, they had a much smaller number of quilts to display, but it was an awesome viewing experience from my perspective. I wish I had the software that they used.  I think it would be fun to put some of my solo exhibits into a show like this. :) Regardless, this was the optimal experience for viewing quilts virtually when we can't meet in real life. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Bloom: Part II

Bloom: Part II
71" x 71" (the other side of Seeds)

Here is the full view!! So pretty!
And a close up:

Where we left off after the previous post:

Since I knew my design was going to be a bit asymmetrical, I knew that I needed some organization of the design pieces, especially as it got bigger.  So, I pinned the right side of the front side of the quilt (Seeds) to the design wall (wrong side out), and placed the pieces of Bloom on top of it, where they would actually be centered.  The center of Bloom was designed to be right on top of the blue seed from Seeds.
I can't tell you how many times I thought about making this a one sided quilt, with the 'seeds' as the background for this big bloom.  It is definitely compelling! Anyway, by designing it on the go like this, I was able to plan better as I got closer to the edges of the quilt. Here are some photos near completion, where you can see the grid quilting from the front side (Seeds).
This one is the entire back after it has been trimmed and is ready for binding. 
After the I completed the quilting from the front, and bound the quilt, it was time to start the hand quilting from the back. I opted for a double line of heavy 12 wt. thread, Sew Sassy.  It was perfect and Superior Threads had enough colors to mimic the gradient of my fabrics!  I also wanted the quilting to look the same on the front as it did on the back.  This is really NOT easy.  The only way minimize the space between stitches and have the stitches look similar on the front and the back is with 'stab and jab'. The needle needs to go in at a 90 degree angle (not obvious from this picture, sorry!) This is a very slow process, on an already longer than expected project.  Just when I thought I had gotten close to the finish line, it moved further back! Ultimately it looked good, and was just what I wanted.

And, lastly, it just worked out this way, but I was ready, if necessary to take those blue arcs right up and into the hanging tube.  I got lucky this time!  Just a simple and plain white hanging tube was all it needed. Yeah for the little things!

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Bloom: Part I

Bloom: Part I
71" x 71" (the other side of Seed)

I had an idea for this side and it took a few tries of sketching it to get what I wanted.  It is the first time that I have tried a design like this.  I believe it is very similar to the Dahlia quilt design, block? 
This is the color palette.

After sketching it on drawing paper, I drew it full scale using old school tools.  I got some white craft paper and my giant compass, (which is really more like a pencil and a long string).  I also used a protractor, which turned out not to be as accurate as I needed on this scale.  The paper arcs were cut individually and then folded in half multiple times to get the right sizes.  I used a freehand to draw the curves, and then cut out plastic templates to use for marking and cutting fabric.  And, since each arc gets bigger, I needed a new template for each arc.  Only one went wonky and had to be redone, so I consider it a pretty huge success that these methods worked as well as they did!
Each section needed a template with three pieces (with the exception of the tiny innermost lime green part).  To make right side and left side pieces, I used the template pieces right side up, and then right side down.  I marked the stitching lines on the back of the fabric pieces, and then cut seam allowances.  Everything was cut with my scissors....wah....
I also discovered that the innermost ring of lime green pieces was too tight of a curve to do on the sewing machine.  Fortunately, I had just accrued an amazing amount of practice sewing small curves from the work on the other side! 
After I had about 8 blocks completed, I sewed them together in an arc, and then checked the accuracy and fit by comparing to the original paper template and making adjustments as needed.  That worked amazingly well! 
There were a lot of seams to keep track of.  Some of them were pressed open (the straight ones), and some of them were pressed to one side (the curved ones).  I always think it looks interesting to see the back!

It was hard work to piece everything accurately, but so incredibly satisfying to see an entire ring come together. Here is some progress on the second ring.

At some point, the arcs are sewn together to form a quarter circle.  The last seams were the straight lines connecting the four quadrants. 
I prefer to sew curves without a lot of pins.  I was not very successful with this design, and spent a lot of time making minor adjustments on each and every curve.  It was frustrating!! Which led me down the rabbit hole of using lots of pins, I mean really, a LOT of pins.  It does take longer to pin it, but every seam was perfect, so it was worth it in the long run.
And there was the added satisfaction of the interesting shapes these curves made when the pieces were pinned...
So there is also the option of glue basting seams like this and skipping the pins altogether.  My biggest problems was that I cut all the pieces by hand, which meant that not all the seam allowances were very accurate or precise.  I normally sew curves by matching the edges of the fabric together.  This did not work.  And, while the accuracy of one piece is not that significant, it becomes more so when multiplied by lots of little pieces.  For glue basting to work well here, I would need some plexiglass type templates that you can use a rotary cutter on (and the templates would need to include the seam allowances).  I didn't have those, nor patience to learn how to make them.  It was possible to do this project with just low cost freezer paper and pins...just possibly less fun.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Seeds: Part 3

Seeds: Part 3
71" x 71"

Here is the full view.  Perhaps you can see the hand quilting which alludes to the design on the back. The back is called Bloom! Which then reveals the inspiration of the quilt.  
I plant a lot of seeds as a parent, carefully cultivating and nurturing them, but I never know which of the seeds will take hold and bloom. When I see my adult kids 'blooming', I can't help but wonder how they came to be such incredibly wonderful and gifted individuals!
This quilt was originally scheduled to open at my solo exhibit in Houston this fall, Both Sides Now.  The exhibit is a collection of two-sided quilts that I have made over the last 5 years or so.  Then the pandemic hit.  The Houston Quilt Festival was cancelled.  I did not think my exhibit would look good on-line because I really wanted the viewer to be able to walk back and forth between the front and the back sides and see them full sized in real life.  So, I will try again for next year and keep my fingers crossed. 

I will start posting photos of the back next week, but for now, some of the quilting process photos. This is a close up of my sewing machine.  Perhaps you can see the white arrow? It is a piece of index card which was taped to a popsicle stick and then taped to my walking foot.  The shadow follows the previous quilting line which allows me to sew a 1" space grid. It is not perfect, but I have always been a fan of the slightly less than perfect and more organic feel of straight line quilting.  

It was an interesting process to decide how to quilt this project, because the back was so different from the front, and because I wanted the quilting lines to be meaningful from both sides.  I choose to quilt a grid from the front side because seeds are planted in a grid.  On the back side, the grid would allude to the origins of the "bloom".  I also decided to hand quilt from the back side, to show on the front side, so that the future of the seeds would be referenced.  I will share more of those photos when I post about the other side.  Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Seeds Part 2

Seeds Part 2
71" x 71"

...I was stitching these small circles....And, then I decided where to put the blue one.  The blue one relates to the story of the quilt and what the other side will be about.  The grid is not complete yet, as the finished size will be 9 x 9 circles.  But it was time to cut out the white blocks that these circles would be stitched to.  And, it was time to visualize the real spacing of the circles, something more like this:
Each corner of a circle will be stitched to each corner of a white square.  Then all the white squares will be stitched together.  Also, these are still looking larger that they will actually be because they are just placed, and not yet stitched, so the seam allowance of the circles is still showing. Here's a close up.
Many afternoons that looked like this: (Also, perfect project for zoom meetings!)
When I finished all the little arcs, it was time to start stitching them to the white blocks. I needed to make sure to sew the right piece to the correct corner and it helped to lay them out in order.

Pinned to the blocks, they kind of look like little boats:
Just another issue, since all the circles were slightly different sizes, the corners of the white blocks had to be cut to fit.  This essentially meant measuring the size of the stitched circle and then using that to draw an arc on the corresponding corner (and then making sure to cut a slightly larger seam allowance).  At first it felt daunting, but after getting organized, it was fairly straightforward.

I think back to making these blocks and being surprised that they weren't perfect.  I had taken so many steps to try to piece them accurately, and yet some of them were just off a bit.  The question was that after I discovered the tiny imperfections, should I re-do it or leave it as is?  That was when I sort of fell in love with the imperfections.  They are like life, imperfect, and I love them!
I also discovered this wonderful halo effect, of the outermost ring color showing through the white background fabric.  This will most likely get me some pretty negative comments from judges because it is seen as a mistake or poor craftsmanship.  I realized early on during the piecing phase that this would happen and decided to leave this because it looks like a small halo and like the seed is starting to grow!  Which is fantastic!  I love it! 
The last photo I have before the reveal next week is the blocks, all pinned together.  

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Seeds - Part I

Seeds - Part I
71" x 71"

It started with an inkling of an idea to make tiny pieced circles.  I already know how to applique circles, but I wasn't sure if I could make some tiny pieced ones.  I selected a color palette and got out my compass. I really like a large sampling of colors.

I started with quarter circles drawn on freezer paper, cut out the pieces, and then pressed them to the fabric.  Once they were on the fabric, I used my scissors to cut a 1/4" seam allowance, and then started the stitching.  I actually thought I would be doing this on the sewing machine because I had gotten quite proficient at sewing quarter circle curves on this quilt.

For reference, the A1 section has about a 1" radius.

I also wanted my circles and sets of circles to be lots of different sizes.  So I drew about 8 different sets, some with just 2 rings, and some with 3 rings.  Here is Sharky trying to distract me! 

Quite expectedly, this project required a lot of repetition.  I cut out 4 pieces of each quarter circle template, and then traced the edge of the freezer paper as my stitching line, lightly with a pencil to the back side of the fabric. 

I did try stitching these by machine, but it was an epic fail.  Also, using a 1/4" seam allowance on these small pieces was a fail.  I just could not get the fabric to stretch enough to go around the tiny inner curves.  My solution was to cut a tiny seam allowance for the inside curves only, approximately 1/8".  Well after starting my project, Jen Carlton-Bailly began posting on Instagram about sewing tiny curves like this! Ah ha! Great minds think alike!  Then MQG offered her tutorial on her process.  It involves glue basting the seams and cutting the seams, and then trimming the seams after stitching, ultimately down to tiny seams....which I was already doing.  My methods were not any easier nor harder, so I just buckled down and continued on.  I did like that she offered plastic templates, that could have saved me some work, but I wanted to custom choose my own sizes. The traced pencil lines helped me hand piece more accurately.  And, the hand piecing of the curves went relatively fast.  I mean, the pieces are so small, that they don't require very many stitches. So good!

Ultimately, I used pins, only 3 per seam.  The first pin is pretty easy to pin, right in the center. I folded the pieces in half to find the center. 
Next, I would sometimes hold it up to the light, to overlap the seam line and stick the pin in just the right spot.  These are those tiny little applique pins.  

The pins to line up the ends are a bit tricky to both hold and pin at the same time.  (I think you can also see in the above photo how small the seam allowance is in the orange piece.)  I got better over time, but it definitely took some practice. Also, I don't know why, but these started looking like little fortune cookies to me!

This is one that is stitched, and before it is pressed flat.  I became a bit obsessed with the interesting 3D shapes of these little curves. So fun!

Over time, I became increasingly concerned that the seam was so small, that it would unravel, especially when some of my fabrics were more coarsely woven.  Some of the fabrics were linens, and those were both easier to stretch and sew, but also more likely to become unwoven.  So, I went back and added a line of stay-stitching.  Also, since this is going to be a quilt, the quilting lines will help hold together the seams.

Over time, I began accumulating a set of the little circle quarters and arranging them on my design wall.  I improvised to select the next round of colors and sizes. 

The colors and the shapes were so incredibly satisfying! The power of circles!