18 February 2013

The Conversation Quilt (with tutorial!)

I've got two quilts in the show at Quilt Con this week.

I blogged about the one on the left fairly recently (you can read about it here and here), but the one on the right has only made one brief appearances when it was in progress.

The Conversation Quilt

It's "The Conversation Quilt" and I love the way it turned out!  I had it quilted for me by the lovely Bernie.  You can go back and read the earlier post about this quilt if you want to hear about its inspiration, but basically, it is a quilt for one of my dearest friends on the occasion of his wedding.  He never stops talking, so the conversation bubbles are partly a joke on him about his non-stop chatter, but also meant to symbolize a relationship as a "long conversation."  The fabrics used inside the bubbles are (mostly) re-used pieces from an enormously long bunting they had in their wedding tent.

conversation quilt-1

The top row is single bubbles (their time before they met), in the second row they meet and begin talking to each other, the third row begins with their wedding vows, and the rest is them in conversation with each other.  That blank spot represents those inevitable pauses and disconnects in relationships...they are normal, so I wanted to depict them in some way.

Anyway, I think this block is tremendously fun and has a lot of potential so, I am posting a tutorial for you!
conversation quilt-3

The conversation bubble unit is pieced improvisationally from two or more fabrics.  Since it is pieced improvisationally, there is no exact yardage for me to tell you to purchase.  In the quilt above, which is about 36x45" I used less than a yard each of the white, gray, and tan fabrics.  You could, of course, use a single fabric for the background or mix it up even more than I have.

You can use one, several, or many fabrics for the contents of the conversation bubbles.  I have about 20 fabrics in the bubbles, which made it fairly easy to keep the spread them around the quilt (not next to the same fabric in any direction.)

The core unit of the block has three sub-units, labelled in the picture below. Keep these numbers in mind as I refer to them throughout the tutorial.

To make a few blocks today, I pulled out some pale teal fabric and some scraps.

scrap choices

This block lends itself well to using scraps for the bubbles as you only need a little bit of each print.

The first thing to do is cut a rectangle (sub-unit 3) from each of your bubble fabrics.
conversation quilt scraps

My rectangles vary from 4.5"x7" to 3"x6" I think the variation brings life to the pattern.   You could, of course, cut them all identically if that's more your style. Leave some of each fabric for the triangle part of each bubble; these can be quite small, but a half-square triangle from a 3" square is a good starting place.

Sub-units 1 and 2 use solids as the base.  For these pieces, I cut 3.5" strips of my solid fabric.  I then cut those strips into rectangles of varying lengths, 3.5" to 4"  You need two of these rectangles for every conversation bubble you'll be making.

To make the sub-unit marked "1" above, simply take one of the solid rectangles and attach a triangular scrap to the corner.
The process is the same as what is described as "the exquisite" from Liberated Quiltmaking or "stitch and flip triangles" from Quilting Modern.  Simple take your scrappy triangle and position it right-sides together over your base fabric (see the diagram above).  You'll be stitching along the line marked in yellow, you can quickly check that you've positioned the fabric correctly by gently folding a 1/4-inch seam in the fabric, and seeing if the background fabric is covered (as in the photograph below).

conversation quilt corners
You can do all of these in one go, but keep in mind that if you want to have the conversation bubbles talk to each other like this:

You need to mix up the location of that triangle you're stitching! 

Once you've sewn those seams, trim away the excess from the background.

And then press the triangle.
You may need to square up the sides marked with arrows in the following pictures.

Once that is done, take each sub-unit 1 and join it with a sub-unit 2.  If it's for a bigger bubble, grab a bigger rectangle.

Finally, attach the bubble (sub-unit 3) along the top.

conversation quilt block

Square up these units.  I recommend using the seam that attaches the bubble to the rest of the block as the guide for squaring up.

Where you go from here is up to you!  In my new version of this quilt, I'm planning on floating the conversation bubbles in negative space:
conversation quilt blocks

In the version of the quilt on display in Austin this week, most of the bubbles were paired with another, then had more background fabric added to each side and the top.

I also think it could be fun to have tiny bubbles floating around a big bubble OR patchwork inside the bubbles AND this could be a really fun way to use novelty fabrics.  Basically, the options are unlimited!  

If you're lucky enough to go to Quilt Con this week, please stop and say hello to my quilts!  Also, if you see me, holla!  


If you use this tutorial, remember to credit me and consider leaving a tip! 

CREDIT REQUIRED:  Anyone is free to use this tutorial to construct a quilt; However, if this is where you got your design idea or where you learned this method, you should credit me, Rossie, with inspiration and please link back to this blog post (The Conversation Quilt with Tutorial).

TIPS ACCEPTED:  If you use the tutorial and feel so moved, please throw a buck or two in my tip jar (no obligation). Rest assured, the money goes into my business account and I will pay taxes on it through the business.

Why do I post tutorials with a tip jar?
(a) I often feel that quilt patterns are over-priced, especially if I can tell just by looking at something how it was made. I am almost never willing to pay $8 for a PDF quilt pattern. However, I would be willing to give someone a dollar or two for using the idea they brought to my attention, I think you might be like me.

(b) I'm a copy-leftist. As such, I don't think it is possible or moral to claim ownership over most ideas or to try to control an idea.   I'm interested in people's willingness to volunteer payment for inspiration.
(c) I have bills to pay.  When this goes reasonably well, I can post more quilts on my blog, rather than keeping them secret while waiting for them to show up in magazines or books.

11 February 2013

Book Review: Quilting Modern

Quilting Modern Book Review

Today's review is of Quilting Modern: Techniques and Projects for Improvisational Quilters
by Jacquie Gering and Katie Pederson

What it is:
A review of seven techniques used by improvisational quilters, showing several quilts using each technique.

Basic breakdown of the book’s contents:

Introduction and basics
  • Introduction (1 page) (less than 1%) This page provides a brief definition of improvisation and some mottos for the improvisational quilter.
  • Tools and Materials (6 pages)(4%) This set of pages provides an extensive list of the tools for “the modern quilter.”  
  • Piecing Basics (6 pages)(4%) These pages explain ¼-inch seams, chain piecing, truing-up fabric and more.
  • Color Theory (6 pages)(4%) These pages lay out some basics of color theory and suggest three basic color schemes (monochromatic, complementary, and analogous).
  • Finishing your Quilt or pillow (12 pages)(8%) These pages explain how to back, quilt, and bind your blankets as well as how to finish quilted pillow projects.

The techniques and the quilts

Techniques and quilt patterns (126 pages)(80%)
This is the bulk of the book.  It is arranged into seven sections.  The lovely introductions to each of the techniques really stand out, “Let instinct, intuition, and possibility be your guide.  Release perfectionism and trust your ideas.”


Each section begins with a stylized picture of a quilt constructed using the improvisational technique.  This is followed by a two-to-five page explanation of the improvisational technique.  The techniques covered in the book are free-piecing, log cabins, inserting strips into blocks, adding corners to blocks, strip-piecing, crazy piecing, and curved piecing.  The explanations are clear and have computer-illustrated diagrams for each step.


However, sometimes the diagrams and the text are a bit at odds.  The photograph below, you’ll see that the text says to “Place piece B on piece A, right sides together, aligning the newly cut edges (fig 6.). ”  However, in order to save as much fabric as possible, the instructions should read to place B on A and then slide B down, such that the top edge of B crosses the top edge of A ¼-inch from the edge that will be sewn.  This is what is depicted in the diagram; its not clear to me why the writing doesn’t describe this adjustment, which saves both labor and fabric.

diagrams are good

{and yes, I write in my books!}

Overall, I think the instructions are excellent, but readers should note that there may be places where the diagrams show a better technique than what has been described in the text.

Following each explanation of an improvisational technique, the authors show three quilts that were pieced using that technique with full explanations of how that particular quilt could be recreated. These include full-on shots of each quilt an excellent tips on how to use a design wall to help visualize a design.


What it is not:
My single greatest disappointment with this book is that it fails to communicate anything about the long history of improvisational quilting. Even the “recommended reading” section at the back fails to point readers to books in this vein.

This is particularly disheartening when it comes to the work of Gwen Marston, whose 1996 book Liberated Quiltmaking contains all but one of the techniques covered by Gering and Pederson (and the seventh is covered in one of Marston's later books).  In the pictures below, I have placed Liberated Quiltmaking and Quilting Modern side by side to demonstrate the parallels.
Log Cabin process

exquisite process

Marston, it is worth noting, begins her book by discussing the history she is working within, discussing at length the utility quilts made by African Americans (think Gee’s Bend), and providing a list of quilt books about those quilts. It saddens me that this tradition of tipping one’s hat to their predecessors wasn't upheld.


Gering and Pederson's recommend a scant-1/4 inch seam when piecing.   I think this is a good starting place for quilters who are new to improvisational piecing and want a basic rule of thumb, but six of the seven techniques in the book require only a straight, strong seam, so I was surprised to see a full page dedicated to achieving and checking for a scant-1/4 inch seam.  This fussy, controlled approach seems at odds with the fun and free approach advocated in the book.

Similarly, I'm not sure that one needs to square-up fabric before rotary cutting when that fabric is just going to be cut at odd angles and pieced with bias-cut and wonky-cut scraps a few minutes later.  The space used to discuss squaring up could have benefited from a more general discussion of the importance of avoiding stretching and distortion and various ways to achieve this (starching, pinning, careful handling, gentle pressing).

Given that the book is titled "Quilting Modern," I think it is also worth mentioning that the authors do not discuss what imbues their quilts with a modern aesthetic or provide any general rules about how that look might be gernerated.  They do define improvisation and explain how to follow that path, so perhaps they equate improvisation with modern quilting (though somehow I doubt that).

I love the look of so many of these quilts and wish they had provided more insight into their decision-making with specific quilts.
Quilting Modern quilt

Who is it for?

This book is an excellent resource for quilters who have been following patterns and are interested in branching out into improvisational piecing.  The tone is very encouraging and the instructions are clear. 

Gering and Pederson have well-developed voices, so simply looking at the images of the 21 quilts may be worth the price of the book for quilting enthusiasts.

The quilts are lovely and have a more modern aesthetic that Marston's, and so any quilter who can't see the modern possibilities in Marston's processes, might benefit from the addition of  Quilting Modern to their library.

Quilting Modern: Techniques and Projects for Improvisational Quilters
by Jacquie Gering and Katie Pederson
is full color throughout, printed on high-quality paper, and 175 pages long.

Publication date: April 2012
Rossie Crafts review date: February 11, 2013
The list price is $26.95, it’s selling for $17.79  today.

I purchased this book with my own money; I am not paid to review books; if you click through to Amazon and then make a purchase, I will receive a small kickback from Amazon.