Thursday, June 13, 2013

Patchwork Explorations

I have a love/hate relationship with quilting. I love the way it looks. I love the way stitching patterns transform a plain fabric sandwich. I hate the prep work required to keep the sandwich layers in place, and I'm not all that fond of planning things out to the inch. My rules for patchwork are that I should already have 90 percent of the fabrics I need, and that the pattern be no more complex than a 9-patch. There are LOTS of 9-patch variations. I avoid embarking on large quilting projects. I quilt pockets, cuffs, bodice inserts, pillows, and doll clothes. Random is nice. Bits from an assortment of projects made these strips. They were destined for a tote bag.

My favorite quilted jacket was pieced directly onto the corpse of a too-large plain jacket. I used 2-inch wide stripes of fabrics that pleased me, and added curved bits for yokes and cuffs. It allowed me to use fabrics left over from clothes I had made for myself. I was out of step with the quilting community, which had discovered stripes and paper pieced work.

True patchwork, for me, is random fabric combinations. In college I made draperies of 2 and 4-inch blocks, with poor joins that didn't bother me as much as they should have. Today's lovely pieced quilts of fabrics from the same company, bought at the same time? They are a little too perfect, a little too confining for me. I can appreciate the work. I just can't make myself do it again. I bought all the fabrics for a clever vest pattern in Threads, sewed it up, admired it, and promptly gave it away.
In 1971 a roommate introduced me to the joys of Grandma's Flower Garden, a hexagon arrangement that took hours to cut and more hours to hand sew, making it appropriate for a college student. I learned a lot about grain and fiber with that pattern. Polyester/cotton blends were tricky. Some hexes came out well; some were elongated. I've thrown out most of the results. I suppose I could do a pillow or two with the leftovers, but the blocks stay in the UFO box to keep me humble.

In 1973, when my grandmother gave me bow tie quilt pieces cut from fabrics she found at our house, I HATED the way colors from different decades worked together. No, I don't like greyed colors paired with brights. There are some colors and patterns I never ever want to see used together, such as a navy/kelly green plaid with a pink/blue seersucker. I unpicked a good many of the blocks she sewed, redoing them in combinations I found less objectionable. I tried random block placement and hated it. Some 40 combinations later, I gave up, and the pieces languish in a box of fabrics somewhere. Years later, an aunt told me she forcibly prevented my grandmother from giving other brides boxes of pieces because she knew the bride would eventually hate it. And I stopped feeling quite so guilty.

Quilting books pushed eyepopping combinations when my preference was for subtle gradations. I admit that the results work. I just can't wear it and won't use it. The hobo bag was fun to make and looks better than the photographs, but it is unused. Even the Ultrasuede pocket does not save this bag. Still, it is preferable to the one with the bright ice cream cone middle. I've never finished this, and all it needs is a snap and a strap.

In the 60s and 70s applique tended to be rounded and cartoony and sweet. I avoided it until a friend had a bleach accident with a lightly appliqued sweatshirt jacket. I took the jacket  to the fabric store, found a  bright print that worked, and added  bits from my stash. I was hooked. Cartoon flowers of randomly chosen fabrics joined stripes from my enormous collection of bias bindings  to adorn many a sweatshirt jacket. The Koos van den Akker technique of large organic shapes framed in bias worked fine in miniature, for Barbie sized dolls. I haven't tried it in a human scale.


 Recently I've graduated to stealing shapes from nature.  I photocopied leaves, making  favorites  in original, medium and enormous. Enormous lost, but medium adorns the sleeves and front of a jacket.