Tuesday, January 27, 2015

My 2015 Charity Quilt Goal

Several years ago, I started to set annual quilting goals motivated by the volume of unfinished projects and fabric that I own (owning a quilt shop for 26 years will do that to you). 
This year, I want to create a new quilt top each month from one of my shelves of fabric.  The quilt tops will be used as donation quilts to the various causes that I support.  Since I store the bulk of my fabric by color groups, that means it will be a year of (generally) monochromatic quilts. 

Happily, once I got the idea, an inspiration perfectly suited to January appeared!!  Winter here in Northeast Ohio (USA) is a brown and (if we are lucky) white time of the year. 

The cardinals that come to my feeder are a reliable spot of color in the bland landscape.  This series of photos I took gave me the idea!  The males are a striking red but the females have a subtle beauty that I admire.

We keep a small pump going all winter in our little garden pond and on this 21 degree (F) morning, it provided just enough open water for  her to get a drink and take a bath. 

And so the color scheme idea was born -- lots of background fabrics with sparks of golden brown and red. 

The pattern?  2 1/2" strips cut from "all" the fabrics on that shelf and worked into a Jelly Roll 1600 roll quilt -- quick to stitch and easy to quilt plus it will be a relaxing break from all my hexagon piecing work!

I spent some time every evening before the annual January sewing retreat with my quilting friends cutting the strips and tidying up the background shelf.  It provided a good opportunity to sort out the small pieces (under 1/4 yard) for quick access next time I need a scrappy assortment of backgrounds and to get the duplicate cuts of a print back together (why do we do that -- buy the same print two or three times?).  The shelf looks very tidy!!

Once I arrived at the retreat, I laid out my stack of strips and stack of squares and used them as leaders and enders while adding the background hexies to my "masterpiece".
During the evenings, when my eyes were tired, I stitched the strips end to end so there is a square of color between every strip. 
I did some calculations to make a larger quilt than is typical with a jelly roll -- my goal was a twin size and I had about 2500 inches of length when I got everything stitched together. 
Pressing is not nearly so tedious when you are at a retreat -- there is always someone available to distract you with some goofy conversation!  My sidekick here couldn't resist indulging in an opportunity to ham it up for the group with an improv "info-mmercial" about one of my upcoming workshops!
Here's a quick tip on minimizing the twisting that can occur when stitching a seam that is 1250 inches long.   I accordion pleat the strip into a tidy stack. 
 The end of the strip is on the left side of this picture.
  I split the stack in half and bring the bottom half of the stack over to my left with the other end of the strip on top of that half of the stack.
Now I lay these two stacks on the floor under my sewing machine table.
 I bring the two ends up and merge them together as I stitch down the seam.  The strip feeds up smoothly with no twisting.  I can even leave and come back without a problem.  Of course, I'm doing this away from my (helpful) cats!! 
You'll notice that I pressed the seam once I have stitched the first pass but after that I don't press again until I have the piece finished. 
As I progressed from a band of two strips to four strips to eight strips to sixteen strips, each seam gets shorter.  Fortunately I realized at sixteen strips that to continue the doubling would not get the results I wanted.  If I doubled to thirty-two and then doubled that to sixty-four, my quilt top would have been too narrow and too long. 
So when I had sixteen strips sewn together, I divided it into three equal sections.  I stitched those three sections together for a top that is 66" by 96".  Most of my strips were approximately 40" long, but there were shorter strips.  That helped achieve the staggered placement of the squares of color.  I'm very pleased with the result and it used up over 5 yards of fabric from my hoard!!
As I folded the top in half to pack it up for the trip home, I thought to myself this is going to be hard to give away?!  So I might unstitch the center seam and finish it as two laprobes (48" by 66") -- one to donate and one for me?
 If you've never done a Jelly Roll 1600 quilt, you can go HERE to watch a video on how to make one.  If you are on Pinterest, do a search for "Jelly Roll 1600" ideas to get inspired.  Then give it a try with that Jelly Roll that is taking up space on your shelves or better yet, cut your own 2 1/2" strips from your stash of fabric and thin out a bit!! 
That gives me another idea -- my 2 1/2" strip box is overflowing -- I could clear it out with a scrappy strippy quilt top!!
 If you are visiting from the GROW YOUR BLOG link, thanks for taking the time to stop by!  Be sure to read my post from 1/25 (HERE) and enter my giveaway by leaving a comment at the end of that post!
To the studio!!
Mary Huey


Monday, January 19, 2015

Contrast Basics for Traditional Quiltmaking -- Print and Scale

This is the third in a series of three posts to share some of what I've learned about creating contrast in quilts.  I believe these ideas pertain more to traditional quilt making than to art or modern quilt making styles.  I'm a traditional quilt maker, relying on traditional blocks to create my designs. 
One of the most valuable experiences I've had as a quilt maker was a five year stint as a sample maker for King's Road Imports when they first began to offer cotton prints to the quilt supply shops in the mid 1990's.  Fashion fabric companies were losing business as women moved away from garment sewing.  So the companies began to offer prints to quilt shops but rather than the traditional small scale calicos they offered an exciting array of large prints and new color combinations. 
It was my job to create quilts that showcased how to use large scale, multi-colored prints with the traditional smaller scale prints -- it wasn't easy at first, but it was exciting!!
This is a Hunter's Star block I just finished making for my January Stash Bee swap and it does a good job of illustrating the contrast of print scale.  I didn't realize until I had assembled the four units that all of them were a combination of a large scale and a small scale print.
Changing the scale of the prints also generates visual interest seen here in this close-up. 
The use of strips and plaids is another way to build contrast into a quilt.  The strip used in the center of this star was random and I let that show rather fussy cutting six identical diamonds.  What other type of contrast do you see in this block. 
 If you said warm versus cool, you are right!
This is a piece I created last winter as part of Karen H's Soupcon follow-along!  I strayed from her design plan somewhat but I love the contrast of that super large scale floral and all the small scale traditional prints.  Polka dots have become popular in the past 5 years and the light background ones offer a wonderful option for backgrounds such as in the center of my piece. 
 Can you categorize the color scheme?  It was the fabric artist's idea, and it's the split complementary color scheme I highlighted in last Monday's post (HERE).  Did you know that "pink" is not a color family?  It's red or red-violet tinted with white.  And the "brown" in the center motif fabric is actually a yellow with black added. 
When I bought that large scale floral, I didn't buy any of the coordinates because I have a large stash accumulated over a span of 30 years and I know that I have fabrics that will work with just about anything.  Then I take all my clues for pulling fabrics from the print -- it provides the color inspiration and I pull prints that vary in value and print style and scale.
I like the excitement I can create in a quilt like my big maple leaf piece with a wide variety of prints and colors.  I blogged about it last fall (HERE) if you want to see close-ups of it.
Not everyone likes that but the principles of using value and print contrast can be applied to any color scheme to create a unique and exciting quilt!  In this basket sampler (more photos of this HERE and HERE), I confined the colors to brown and blue.  Value then became the primary way to achieve the contrast so each basket is easy to see.  The background is an ivory solid and all the prints range from medium to dark in value. 
 By using a large scale print with both colors for the sashing, setting triangles and outer border, I achieved another element of contrast which makes this quilt so successful.  Notice that the closer the prints are in value, the less contrast there is between the individual triangles in this block.
You can begin to actively and consciously use these contrast principles in your own quilt making.  Start out by analyzing quilts you love.  When you are browsing through a book or magazine or enjoying a quilt exhibit, take the time to consider how value contrast, color contrast, and print contrast work in the quilts you like.  If you start a list of the results of your analyses, what should begin to appear is a summary of your preferences in each of those areas.  Then you can begin to ask questions to compare these preferences to your quilts.
If you are drawn to quilts with strong value contrasts, do you make quilts with strong value contrasts? 
If certain color schemes catch your eye regularly, does your stash reflect that preference? 
 As you begin to identify these preferences, you will gain more confidence about making your own fabric and color choices rather than always relying on someone else's kits.
And that is what makes my quilts unique and will make your quilts unique -- using them as a showcase for your personal preferences!!
Now go stitch something together!!
Mary Huey

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Contrast Basics for Traditional Quiltmaking -- Color

Color is the most frequent topic of conversation among quilters in my opinion and it's certainly the most interesting part of any quilt for many of us.  Color is the thing that catches our eye about a quilt before anything else.  You can see the same quilt in your favorite color and love it, but not even notice it in a color you don't like. 

While it's the factor that catches our eye, it's also the element of making a quilt that intimidates many of us.  We are under the illusion that we have to be "artistic" to create satisfactory color combinations.  That's not true.  What is true is that it takes practice to recognize your color preferences and to learn how to manage colors in such a way that they please you.  I've had lots of practice -- 26 years of keeping shop and over 35 years of teaching will do that. 

Some things I've learned from all that experience:

Everyone has color preferences that are the result of where we live and subtle cultural cues.  That means we need to understand where we are with color before we can move into uncomfortable color zones.  (That also means you might need to stop relying on "designers" and manufacturers to organize your color combinations for you, but that's a "soapbox" I can't get on today.) 

Step one is not to be intimidated by the color wheel.  There are a couple basics that are easy to understand.  This represents the twelve basic color families.  The outer ring are the "darks" that have black added to the pure color.  The middle ring are the pure colors.   The inner ring are the "lights" that have white added to the pure color.
Next you need to understand that every combination of colors directly across from one another on the wheel are STRONG or HIGH contrast.  So if you want a bold, strong contrast in a quilt, choosing colors that are opposite each other achieves that no matter what that combination is.
Here's one -- violet and yellow.  Since I've chosen prints as close to the pure colors as I could get in my stash, it's a very strong contrast.  If I want to soften it, I could change the value of one of the prints.
Or I could chose a color closer to the violet.  The closer two colors are on the wheel, the softer the contrast.  So here is the violet with red -- squint at the pictures and you can't even tell the block is a 9-patch.  
When you chose colors that are adjacent on the color wheel like this it's called an analogous grouping.  Analogous groupings add a lot of interest to a color scheme.
When you are working with a two color scheme, adding a little of the adjacent colors to one of the main colors works well.  The technical name for this is split-complementary.  In this illustration, the yellow-green and red-violet are the complementary colors (highest contrast).  Adding greens and yellows will make that palette more interesting.
Another element I find helpful is to use the warm side of the color wheel versus the cool side.  This is the cool side -- can you guess what colors are on the warm side?  So when we want to create a calm color scheme focusing on this group of colors helps us achieve that.

But when we want to go happy and bright and hot, we use the warm side to evoke those impressions.

Batiks are not my favorite palette of fabrics but I know they are very popular with students so when I want to make a teaching sample using batiks, I rely on this warm versus cool aspect of color to achieve the contrast I prefer in a quilt.  This 8-pointed star is a good example of that.
Look back at the "split-complementary" view of the color wheel -- what is it? 

It's a warm and cool contrast -- in fact every combination of color opposite each other on the color wheel are warm and cool!!

This is my happy color palette -- an ivory or white ground with clear colors.  I've learned a lot from fabrics that "sing" to me.  I've learned to create combinations that please me by imitating them.  This piece is currently being considered for a project and it may or may not get used for it, but I will definitely use it to pull my fabric pile because I want it to be a happy quilt and this make me happy!!  I don't need to define the combination, but it's helps to recognize how the contrast is achieved -- it's using all the shades of green as a secondary background.  The colors that show up the most on it are the reds, oranges, and yellows.  The contrast with the violets are softer -- because it's closer to green on the wheel. 
I hope these thoughts about achieving contrast with color are helpful to you, but experimenting with color is the only way to get comfortable with it.  Remember, quilters who do "fabulous" stuff have their share of ugly stuff that has helped them get to the point they are today!!

Mary Huey

Saturday, January 10, 2015

What to do, what to do? 1st quarter 2015 goals!

If you read my posts regularly, you know I just achieved a highly successful run at quilting up a group of quilt tops -- I usually achieve goals that include deadline commitments made to other people.  That drive to give a quilt to all six of "my people" underscored the thrill of finishing is something I can achieve.  So I'm going to give it another go and I counting on all of you to hold me accountable!!

I'm going to quilt three of the tops myself currently living on the "to quilt" shelf.  There are so many choices (at least 30) . . . . so how about the oldest for starters?  That's good.  And then one that I've pieced for to donate to a good cause.  Okay!  And finally, one that I treasure and love!
I think this is the oldest, certainly it's one of the oldest!  It was a teaching sample back in the early 90's when I taught a series of classes based on the books of Mary Ellen Hopkins.  Connecting Up  was her first book using what most of you today call "flip and sew" or "snowball" corners.  I'm pretty sure Mary Ellen was the first to come up with this idea and because she had such a large following of teachers it spread around the states like wildfire and the credit to her has been lost.   The book is available through used book websites.
I love this setting of large and small bowtie blocks and the idea of two different background prints was "cutting" edge at the time.  I almost let this one go 10 years ago when I closed my shop but my oldest daughter expressed an interest in it -- I hope she still wants it!!
This crazy teacup quilt is made with blocks from friends as part of a block exchange group and it would be fun to hang it in my dining room where my teacup collection resides.
  The setting idea came from first Karla Alexander's first book, Stack the Deck -- it's still available on the used book sites but Karla has gone on to write several more books applying the concepts that were so new at that time.
I pieced this quilt top last year during Alison's QCQAL with the intention of donating it somewhere in the future.  Many of you followed my progress as I applied Marti Michell's templates to Alison's instructions.  Well, the future is here and I'm sure it will be easy to find a home for such a cheerful (finished) quilt!
I'm going to send one quilt top out to be quilted which is too big for me to handle with my increasing neck and shoulder issues.  It's a sampler of baskets with appliqued cluster of flowers.
With my typical winter teaching load, I think this is about all I can commit to -- so here I go!!
Mary Huey

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Contrast Basics for Traditional Quilt Making -- Value

I've just begun participating in a couple of on-line "follow along" projects and lots of the participants are posting their fabric combinations, some asking for advice, and it brought out the teaching "shop owner" in me.  So I decided to share some of what I learned via 26 years of helping students and customers chose fabric for quilt projects.  Most of my experience is with traditional block piecing so it may not apply to other aspects of quilt making. 
Let me begin by sharing that teaching and working with Gai Perry's excellent book, Color From the Heart (C & T Publishing, 1999) which is still available as a "print on demand" edition if you don't have it squirreled away in your library.
Value is more important than color in tradition blocks.
Mary Ellen Hopkins was the first teacher to point that out to me and I've tested the premise more often than I care to admit.  Sometimes I get so caught up in creating a beautiful fabric combination that I forget to consider if the value of the prints achieves the look I want.
So here's a quick lesson on value.  Blue is easy on the eyes so here's a range of blues. 
If you were to pull out all the fabric you own in one color range, you would be able to organize it from the very darkest to the very lightest.  Some quilters use "value finders" -- I squint or take off my glasses -- to get the placement correct. 
It's easy to pick the very darkest and the very lightest, but that muddle in the middle -- mediums?!?
So to make it easier, I break down that medium muddle into dark medium, medium, and light medium.   These definitions may help you sort it out.
Lights are white or off-white background with a bit of color -- you can see the background clearly.
Light-mediums are either pastel backgrounds or have a density of color so that the background is obscured.
Mediums have a color background and often have lots of other colors printed onto it.  Busy, dense prints with lots of colors are usually mediums even though the background may be navy or black, etc.
Dark-mediums may have a darker shade background, but they are also less densely printed -- more of the background shows through.
Darks are the darkest shade of a color with no other colors in the print design.
(These definitions are simple and intended to make this less intimidating.)
Once I pull a stack of potential fabrics for a project, I rank them in value order.  Then I experiment with positioning them to achieve the "look" I want.
If I want a bold or strong or clear contrast, I use the lightest and darkest values of the group, eliminating the medium range. 
If that look is too bold, I can replace the "dark" with a "dark medium" or the "light" with a "light-medium" as in the next two photos.
Eliminating both the "dark" and the "dark medium" lessens the contrast. 
The lowest contrast occurs by using values that are next to each other as in this "light-medium" and "light".  Modern quilters refer to this as "low-volume".
I can achieve a low contrast with any of my five value groups just by keeping the value close together on the scale as illustrated in the following two photos.
My students will tell you that I rarely offer them an opinion on their color choices.  Instead I try to help them evaluate their choices against the "look" they are trying to achieve.  By pointing out the value contrast that I see in their stack of fabric and asking if that is what they envisioned, they are able to make their own decision. 
The most successful tool in making value decisions is auditioning -- don't buy into the myth that everyone but you can "visualize" the way their block/quilt is going to look. 
Lay out all the options, leave the room, come back and pay attention to your first response!!
Your brain knows in a flash what it likes -- sometimes we just refuse to listen to it.
I believe that when I'm hesitate about a decision, it's my brain saying "no" and I'm not listening.
I hope this little essay is helpful to you.  Practice it by pulling out a stack of fabric (it might need tidying up anyway).  I'll work up another one in the next few days about achieving "Contrast of Color" based on my experience selling thousands of yards of fabric.
Piece on!!
Mary Huey

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Nathalie's Sunflower Quilt!

Yesterday my friend, Nathalie in France, has started her New Year's "not a mystery" project for us!  I have been watching her make the sample which she has named the Sunflower and it's a charming quilt.  It uses Marti Michell's new 2" Kite and Crown Template Set.  I'm going to follow along and thought you might enjoy doing the same!

If you own my DVD Set-In Piecing Simplified or you've attended one of my Tumbling Blocks workshops, this quilt will be a good next step to practice chain-piecing through those y-seams.  If you haven't purchased the DVD yet or you haven't watched it yet, what a good way to begin your 2015 year of quilting -- by learning a new technique!
There is a Facebook group that you can join and several of the gals have started to share their fabric picks.  I'm going to use a 30's reproductions jelly roll (because I couldn't live without it, so now I have to use it) for the "crown" petals and a white-on-white print for the background.  The print for the center hexagon and the setting triangles hasn't presented itself yet but I have time.  The first step is a couple hours of cutting and you can find it HERE.  Don't be intimidated by the French!  If you have the Google toolbar, activate the "translate" button -- once Nathalie's post is downloaded, click translate and "ta-da", it's English. 
Need the templates -- I have them in stock -- they are $14 plus shipping -- go here to my on-line shop and order them today or if you live nearby, e-mail me and make arrangements to stop by.

If I get the first step cut this afternoon, I can mark them this evening during the return of Downton Abbey!!

UPDATE:  1/5/2015 -- Following is a translation of the supplies and fabrics needed to make Nathalie's quilt which is a lap robe size
        Tools needed include Marti Michell's 2" Kite and Crown Set, Set G, and the Small 60 degree Ruler
        Fabrics needed include 12 fat quarters or a jelly roll for the "crown" petals
                                              1 1/4 yards background fabric
                                              1/2 yard for first border
                                              1 yard for second border
                If you use a jelly roll, you can make a "pieced" center hexagon using the prints in the jelly roll or pull another 1/2 of fabric for a center hexagon.

Here is link to some photos of Nathalie's first top of the quilt.

Mary Huey

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Other Christmas Quilt

I actually gave a new quilt to six of my closest people this year -- some sort of record for me!!  One was finished early in 2014, four were quilt tops that needed quilting and this one was just cut out at the beginning of October when I set my finishing goals!  
This is the quilt that was cut out -- a Tessellating Windmill for my grandson.  I cut it using Marti Michell's terrific tool and a layer cake -- it was a cutting demo during a quilt show in 2013?  I had purchased the fabric for the border and the binding so once the top was together (a couple days!!), it was time to think about the backing!!
One of the side effects of working almost exclusively out of my stash these days is that the BIG pieces of fabric are disappearing so pieced backings are becoming the norm for me.  I thought you might enjoy seeing the process I use to create one of these. 
It begins with a little math.  I have divided the width I need to achieve by 4 and plan to make four panels approximately 18" wide. 
After deciding gold/yellow would be a good choice for the backing (won't show the dirt), I pulled that stack (okay, two stacks) off the shelves and pulled out all the ugly ones.  Well, maybe they aren't ugly, but they are pieces I've owned for quite a while and have hardly or never used.  They want to be used!! 
Once I have a pile, I press all of them and sort them into four groups -- each group will give me about 92" in length which is my target.
Here is a stack of six pieces for one panel ready to trim to the same width.  It's easier to do this before stitching the pieces together -- to trim a 92" long panel straight is challenging!!
In a short time, I have four stacks of fabric ready to piece together into four panels for my backing.  The leftovers are folded back up and returned to the shelf.
And the hungry wastebasket is satisfied for the day!
By the end of the afternoon, I had a backing ready to go.  The panels aren't all 18" -- some are wider, some narrower -- it's what worked.  The lengthwise grain of all the pieces runs on the length of the backing so they will behave similarly when I quilt. 
Would it be easier to buy a backing?  Perhaps, but I already own this fabric -- so no new outlay of cash.  It reduced my stash by 4 1/2 yards (always good).  Now I have space and cash to buy some fun new yardage next time I'm out shopping.
I used the same backing strategy on his dad's lap quilt -- panels went across the quilt and there went another 3 1/2 yards of fabric.  I'm not sure which gives me a bigger thrill -- finishing a quilt or using up a lump of stuff out of my stash?!?
And what a rush to finish 5 quilts over the past three months -- it feels like a personal record!!
My list of "tops ready to quilt" is down to thirty (from 45 at the beginning of the year) and I'm feeling very encouraged about moving through those piles in 2015.  It would be so exciting to only have a dozen quilt tops on that shelf at the end of the year!!!
With that said, my goal for today is to layer up a quilt!!
What are you doing to get 2015 off to an energetic start?
Linking up over at The Littlest Thistle 2014 Finish Along to celebrate with all the others!!
Mary Huey