Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Free Spirit Quilt Top

This is how high I got up the ladder before my fear of heights set in!

I've spent the last two weeks working as hard and fast as I can to get this quilt top done in a timely manner for Free Spirit. All that's left is to applique a big white logo across the top and quilt it, and then ship it off to Charlotte, to Free Spirit HQ, so that they can take it to Quilt Con West next month!

So I thought today you might be interested in hearing a little about my work with Free Spirit?

In about September last year, I was approached by Free Spirit's marketing department in an email saying that Anna Maria Horner had recommended me as someone who might be interested in mapping some virtual quilts for her upcoming lines. The email was such a surprise, as I'm sure you can imagine, that I had to read it three times to see if I'd understood it correctly. And I didn't understand it. What was mapping? And what were virtual quilts? Anna Maria Horner knew who I was? And if I wrote back with these questions, was I giving myself away that I was completely in the dark, and therefore, possibly the wrong person for the job?

I took the plunge, politely, but excitedly replying that I was very interested, if they could just let me know exactly what I was interested in.
It turns out 'mapping' is designing, using the pictures of the fabric designs. I would design a quilt (actually, three or four quilts) on my computer with the images of the fabric line and submit them for consideration. They would get back to me with their favourite, and I would write a pattern for them.

I really enjoy the work. And if I may say so, I think I'm good at it. Though, that's not to say I haven't had to learn a lot. It's a very different process writing a pattern for a quilt before you've made it. My usual quilting process involves a lot of trial and error at the best and quickest way to put together blocks or quilt tops. I can't go through that process here. Often I tend towards scrappy quilts that play with value, rather than two-colour blocks, which makes cutting instructions really tricky. And I don't think I have ever, ever, sat down and thought about how much of each print I need and what exactly I need to cut before diving into a quilt. I usually just start cutting until I feel like I have enough, which is usually only about half of what I need. I sew it together and then start cutting again. And I guess, most importantly, while I'm making the quilt, I often make changes, because of how I feel about it now that I'm working with it, or because I've built on my original plan.

But quilt design on a computer is a completely different animal, and it's one I've learned to really love. I've had to learn that even in a scrappy quilt, I should use a similar amount of cuts per print, making the pattern much easier to read, and to write. I've learned, as I come up with new blocks or layouts, to ask myself "Could I actually describe that to someone? How?" and, "Do I even know how I would put that together?" It's easy to get creative with lines on a computer. It's a whole other thing to sew fabric together in the same way. The whole process has felt like learning a new science, or a new language. It's like the grammar here is different to the way I'm used to speaking, but I can find other ways to get my message across.

I've been amazed to see old designs I discarded on a previous job, suddenly come to life with a completely different line of fabrics. It's helped hone a sense of what brings different fabrics out, what do different styles need to look beautiful.

The lovely folks at Free Spirit have been so kind and open to me learning these things, happy to answer my questions, and I am very grateful for the opportunity. I've worked with lines that are exactly my taste, and I have more ideas than I can use. And I've worked with lines that are so different to what's in my stash, but the challenge of making something I'm really happy with has been so satisfying. I wish I could show them all here now! But I'll wait until the quilts have been shown at Quilt Market.

And then, about six weeks ago, I was asked to design this quilt, a special request for the Free Spirit Booth at Quilt Con West in Pasadena next month. Actually, again, I designed three quilts. I mapped the cityscape at the top of the post, the medallion quilt above, and the one I'm making. My brief included using a colour gradient, from purple to aqua, and the Free Spirit Logo in white. I really, really love the other two quilts, but I'm so glad they chose this one. It does make me feel like a Free Spirit. And it's also the simplest design, a good thing for me because I'm making it on the other side of the world.

Still, it's taken about twice as long as I anticipated to sew it up. I've always been terrible at guessing such things, and my optimism got the better of me here too.  I've been so fortunate that Tim is at home these days, able to look after the kids and the food and our other needs. Working from home is a challenge! But it still feels like a gift that I can tell my kids, who have walked right past Tim in the kitchen to come ask me for a sandwich, that that's Daddy's job this week. Oh, and to have my very own coffee connoisseur in the next room!

And my very own Quilt Critic. Here he is telling me what I didn't quite achieve in the design. We've been married ten years next month, and I'm glad I've learned to appreciate his feedback, and then still hold it up confidently against my own! And I love this quilt. I really love it. I can't wait to start the next challenge of appliqueing the logo. I can't wait to use some very new, yet to be released, wideback cotton for the backing! And I can't wait to see it hanging in the Free Spirit booth at QuiltCon.

Will you be there? Will you take a photo for me?

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Farmer's Wife 1930s ~ Mrs Morgan

I really, really love hand-stitching. But yesterday, when I suddenly remembered today was my turn for the Farmer's Wife Sew-Along, (AH!) my big, red machine started calling! Now, I love my big, red machine too, but I'd already cut out the printed template, chosen the colours and started to cut out fabric for basting, so I decided to run with what I had.

Using the 'Block' printable from the CD enclosed with the Farmer's Wife book, I quickly coloured in some of the shapes so I'd remember which prints to match them with, and then cut them all out. Then I used plain, old, regular glue stick to fold and fix the fabric over the papers.

Then, starting with those two little pointy half-house-like shapes, I pressed them right sides together, stitched a few, quick staying stitches, and then hand- stitched along the seam.

I then added a large, coloured triangle to the upper right side, and a small low-volume triangle to the left. I now had a half-square triangle. Then I stitched the white triangles around the square to make a second half-square triangle.

I pressed the two triangles together, careful to match up the seams, and stitched along the seam.
Hmm. It was now time to make dinner, and Mrs Morgan was turning out to be a day-long visitor.
After dinner and a story, Tim and I put the kids to bed and I went back to giving Mrs M. some attention when we heard a knock at the door. A young friend with her Chilean mother and aunt had called in to meet us. Suddenly the house was a buzz of tea making, conversation and laughter. Our guests asked if they could help with my block, and I willingly obliged, passing out glue and scissors and thread.

Over stitches, we talked about their old life in Chile, our travels, embarrassing stories about learning a new language, fabric, quilting, fashion design... Mrs Morgan wasn't finished until after midnight, a block that might have only taken me 20 minutes if I'd let myself change course earlier in the day. And now that I'm here, still typing even later after midnight, I wonder if that would have been best. I'd really love to be in bed right now! But paper piecing for me has the uncanny knack of drawing people together. Visitors never offer to help with my machine sewing, but I'll often get asked how they can help if I'm stitching on the sofa. People ask me to teach them, ask me why I did it this way, and then like a good wine, hand-stitching opens up the conversation. I've listened to people talk about their hopes and their grief while I teach them to stitch. So I'm trusting that maybe Mrs Morgan knew this was the way to go. She's one I would have preferred just to check off the list and keep going, but she helped me play host instead.

After we'd made the four little identical squares, I lay them out to match up my seams. I then sewed the top two and the bottom two together, and then I sewed those rectangles to each other. And voila! A tiny 6" block made by four chatting woman and a kind husband who kept refilling tea cups.

You've reach the next stop of the Farmer's Wife 1930s Sew Along hosted by Angie of Gnome Angel, Marti Michell, and the Fat Quarter Shop. Thanks for stopping by!

05/01/2016: Angie @ & Marti @ Marti Michell
06/01/2016: Melissa @ Oh How Sweet & Nathalie @ Les Ouvrages de Nat
07/01/2016: Angie @ & Marti @ Marti Michell
08/01/2016: Lucy @ Charm About You
12/01/2016: Angie @ & Marti @ Marti Michell
13/01/2016:  Jodi @ Tales of Cloth
14/01/2016: Angie @ & Marti @ Marti Michell
15/01/2016: Alyce @ Blossom Heart Quilts & Tonya @ The Crafty Mummy
19/01/2016: Angie @ & Marti @ Marti Michell
20/01/2016: Jess @ The Elven Garden
21/01/2016: Angie @ & Marti @ Marti Michell
22/01/2016: Melissa @ Ms Midge
26/01/2016: Angie @ & Marti @ Marti Michell
28/01/2016: Erin @ Why Not Sew & Rachel @ Family Ever After & Renee @ Sewn With Grace

The Farmer’s Wife 1930s Sampler Quilt: Inspiring Letters from Farm Women of the Great Depression and 99 Quilt Blocks That Honor Them by Laurie Aaron Hird for Fons & Porter/F+W; RRP $28.99 – Click here to purchase.

Each time I've made one of these blocks, I've toyed with the idea of machine piecing. And each time, hand-stitching has made me more available, more inclusive, and a whole lot slower. They're all things I'd love to embrace more this year. How about you?

Monday, 11 January 2016

New Day, New Year.

Today is the first day.

Tim's at the dining table reading about earthquakes with the kids. And I have escaped to my air conditioned cave to sew and write a blog post.
When we were at university, Tim and I used to joke about how his degree (in engineering) would get him a job, and mine (in history and Russian) was great for dinner parties. But when suddenly, a little over a year ago, the north wind blew, and two souls, feeling dry and a little lonely in suburbia, got a call about a house in the country, it didn't take much, if any, convincing for us to pack up our house and move to the land of the deep breath.

We've been living in Canowindra, NSW for 13 months and it's golden hills and deep silence (except for this time of year, when the cicadas are celebrating their yearly riot) have affected us deeply. Here there is no academia, no race, no big shopping malls or beeping horns. I have enjoyed a year off comparing myself to that model on that billboard, or that family in that big house. There is hard work, there is a connection with the seasons, there's an optimism, and a kind of submission to the whims of the weather. If you've read the Little House books, you'll know what I mean. "Surely this year, it will rain. Surely this year, our hard work will pay off."

I like living here with these people, and these hills. Every so often there'll be a remark about having to go back to 'real life'. But I wonder if we've stumbled upon it here, where we know our neighbours and work with our hands.
This time last year I changed my blog name to reflect these other changes. Tales of Cloth became what I was hoping for, a place of stories and connection, of colour and learning. I didn't have as much time for it as my dreams needed to be fully realised. But I had time to sew and to read. When Red Sky at Night came to a close, my year did too. And suddenly my mind was blank. I had nothing to write about. So I let it sleep for a while.

Sometime during the second half of last year, I was approached by Free Spirit to design some quilts for Anna Maria Horner's upcoming lines. Yes! I made up some 'virtual quilts' and submitted them. They liked my work, and asked me to design with some other lines. And then that work led to more, until finally, last month, I was asked to make a huge quilt inspired by the Free Spirit Logo for QuiltCon 2016! Having spent the whole year in the history books, and working a lot with red and white, working in this way has felt like an absolute gift. It's interesting and challenging and fast. And I'm soaking up every bit of it.

One of my submissions for the QuiltCon 2016 quilts that wasn't chosen.

Around the same time, Tim and I started to reflect on this new 'real' life we'd stumbled upon. His Masters was drawing to a close (though even now drags on beligerantly), and our work here with Cornerstone was rich and fullfilling, but low student numbers were taking its toll on the community finances. Surely there was some way we could make the most of my connections with the quilting community, that could provide some unskilled labour for the young adults who stay here with us, work to pay their way, and study the Bible. We think we've come up a corker of an idea. But I won't share it now. All that just to say that we've caught that kind of farmer's optimism, "The harder I work, the luckier I get", and like ducks, we're paddling away behind the scenes to bring something new and colourful to the quilting community.

And that's why I am here! And Tim is out there learning about earthquakes. It's why, when I finish writing, I'll start sewing, instead of cutting up apple. 2016 will be a year of working together, of trying new things, of argueing, I'm sure, whose turn it is to do bath time or cook dinner. But nothing new is ever smooth, and I feel hopeful for a year of working at something that is meaningful and interesting to both of us.