Thursday, June 20, 2013

Anatomy of a failure

As I mentioned yesterday, I have been working on a wall-hanging type deal that I consider to be pretty much a failure. Not a throw-myself-to-the-ground-and-wail-with-despair kind of failure, but a failure to achieve the ends I had in mind and a failure to execute what I envisioned well enough to please myself. This was the good kind of failure, because in all the things that are wrong with it, I can see what I need to do to make it better, and I believe I can eventually succeed in making it better. Sometimes, a failure just needs to be cut up and put in the bottom of a lizard cage. I don't think that is the case with this one. But, as it is, it is NOT something I would put in a book or a show (except maybe a side show), and I'll show you why.

This was the design I made in Illustrator, which is my main quilt design tool right now.

And here is the top, before it was quilted. You can see in the above illustration that it will have a blue border. I was in love with the combination of the blue with the two purples—still am, actually— and the idea I had was that I would quilt the purple areas with thread in that blue, and then the blue binding would help draw that color out.

So here is the whole thing finished.

I did a series of arcs in the center. I used an EZ Quilting Circle Cut ruler to mark the circles. At first, I tried using a walking foot, but I found that it was very hard to turn the quilt under it. I kept having to stop and pivot, and that created humps in my lines that I didn't like. The lines ended up being smoother wen I used a regular foot and never stopped to pivot, keeping the turn smooth. This cause an ungodly pain in my left shoulder, but what's a little bursitis among friends?

I did straight lines on the outer squares, angled to sort of emphasize the outward movement I was going for. The lines were marked at roughly half-inch intervals and were actually quilted first.

Then in the sort of center background squares, I did a moderately dense stipple. This is my only decent free-motion stitch.

Then in the corner triangles I took this plastic plate from IKEA:

and traced it in various places to produce a looser, more mod texture.

One of the major problems was the chalk I used to make some of the quilting marks. The white chalk washed out just fine. But I was alternating between white and yellow, trying to determine which one didn't make me want to claw my eyeballs out, and the yellow, for the most part, left a residue. So much of my blue thread, has a distinct yellow cast, as does the fabric behind it. I wouldn't have washed the quilt at all if it hadn't been for those damn lines, which didn't come out anyway.

With the curves in the center and the straight lines, at first I was tying off at the end of each row, but I got tired of that pretty fast, and I decided to just travel to the next line in the ditch of the seam. Except the damn quilt kept being all snakey and I couldn't keep that damn needle in the stupid ditch. So, this little jump happened all over, and it looks sloppy.

I did a pieced back, and here you can see the color combo better, because I added it to the piecing here. However, it's crooked. It wasn't supposed to be, so it bothers me.

In retrospect, I should have stitched in the ditch around all the blocks, as this would have helped the back look a little better. But I wasn't too keen on attempting any more ditch stitching, so I skipped it.

While I'm usually happy with how my stippling looks from the front, it always has these...pulls?...on the back side. I've played with tension on my machine in every possible way, and it does no good. So, this is probably something I'm going to have to accept.

Now, looking at the front again:

In general, I do like this. But the blue stitching doesn't come out on the purple well enough, and even though it's there in the binding, I want to see it in the quilt more. So there will be a redesign that adds that blue in there somewhere. I love the design of the quilting in the center and in the purple boxes, and I like the stippling pushing those squares back, but I'm not happy with the corners. I like the curved-corner rectangle motif, but I don't think it works here. I think next time, I would extend the stippling in those areas, so the background stays pushed back and the purple squares have more dimension next to them. Or, there's another idea I had for some curved lines that might also work if I can find a way to draw them.

The problems in my quilting are hard to photograph, but they show up very well if you are standing even a couple feet away, as someone might be in a show, and so I would never display this quilt except as a teaching tool. But I know I can make it better, and because it is small and manageable, I'll definitely do it again and give myself the opportunity to make it into what I want it to be. Ultimately, the person I have to please is me, and I have to find the balance between being too hard on myself and just accepting any old crap I spit out. I want to design. I want to teach. I want to write books. I need to be good enough to do those things, and I'm not there yet.

But I will be.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


On Sunday morning, I announced to my family that I was heading out to the Annapolis Quilt Show, the annual show put on by the Annapolis Quilt Guild, of which I am not a member due to my anti-social tendencies. But I like to check out the show and especially the vendors. It's always the exact same vendors, but sometimes, in amongst the batiks and civil war repros there will be one fabric that I like. I made the offer to the kids to come with me, knowing that, as always, they would refuse, but then Harper pulled one out of left field and asked if she could take pictures there. I said sure, and then Devon had to come too and so off we went, me with my debit card and two girls with my old Canon point-and-shoot.

So, normally, I would have several photos from the show for you but A) all the pictures they took look like they were taken from a moving vehicle, and B) I cannot now find the camera.

The show was lovely, as usual, and again, as usual, it made me wonder if I would ever see one of my own quilts in a show someday. More on that later.

One of the first vendors we came to was Material Girls quilt shop. they're in LaPlata, MD, which is about an hour or more from here and so I have yet to drive down there, but each time I see them at the show, I realize I really, really need to go. Plus, they sell GenQ, which makes them automatically cool. Harper went nuts when she saw ninja fabric and then the  salesperson pointed out that they had a kit for a ninja quilt. I am a sucker for a kid who wants a quilt, and I am, apparently, also a sucker for fabric that is already put together for me in a nice package.

Well, I couldn't just buy a quilt kit for one kid and not the other, now could I? And it just so happened they had a solar system quilt kit. For my little science nerd. Whose eyes lit up when she saw it. Dammit.

And I also got suckered into a pattern for some stuffed kitties. Because everybody loves stuffed kitties.

And I got myself some hexie papers. Just so I could bring home something for me.

And I've been working on three other projects that I can't show you. The first one I have probably mentioned. It is for a friend who is publishing a book and needs quilts made with her patterns for a gallery. She asked me to make one, and I did, and Lisa quilted it for me, and now I'm binding it. Or, actually, I am wrestling with thread and pliers, because it is so densely quilted in places, that is the only way to get the needle through. I'm having a lot of anxiety about it. Not about the binding, though that is making my one arthritic knuckle swell up rather cartoonishly. Just anxiety that what I made isn't good enough. I see so many problems with it, so many things I should have done differently, and things I had hoped would be less apparent after quilting are maybe even more apparent. I will be glad when it is doen and mailed off because then it will be out of my hands and I won't even know if it makes the cut for a long time, so I'll have no choice but to forget about it.

In the meantime, I  designed a quilt. An actual design, too, not just another goddamn chevron quilt made from half-square triangles. (Seriously. If I see another chevron quilt presented like its the most amazing thing anyone has ever seen, I'm going to throw my Eleanor Burns HST ruler at my computer screen.) And when the whole top was put together, I realized it was like 96 x 96 - just freaking huge, and I cannot quilt something that big on my domestic. I mean, I can, but the thought of it makes me cry. So, Lisa to the rescue again, but she can't work on it until, like, January, because the ENTIRE WORLD has fallen at her feet and is currently sucking her toes. Metaphorically.

So, in the meantime, I shot a pic of it and sent it to Jake and Melissa to see what they thought. I was hoping they'd be comfortable enough to be honest with me and tell me where they think the design may have gone wrong, but clearly they were not that comfortable because they asked if they could publish it. And I tried to be all cool about it, like, "Um, yeah, sure, I guess," and I told them it probably wouldn't be ready until next year, figuring that might give them their out, and they were all, "NO, that's cool. This is worth waiting for." So, I figure they're trying to get on my good side about something.

So I can't show you that either. Then I have a third project going, and it's almost done. I probably will show you that, because I think it's going to suck. See I have this idea for a book, but I can't put together a proposal, until I have at least a couple finished projects, and both this and the one that will be in GenQ unless certain people come to their senses have been designed with that potential book in mind. But I cannot give everything to Lisa to quilt for me because of all the metaphorical toe sucking and because I can't pay her for all of that and because I need to be able to do more myself. So this one I have quilted on my own, and it's just a wall hanging, so it's certainly manageable, yet I still think it looks like I was blindfolded and high when I did it.

I can't help it - I do have high standards for myself. I want to be good enough at this that someone might want to learn from me someday. I want my work to be good enough to be in a magazine, or in a book. I realize not everybody wants those things for themselves, and that's fine, but I do. And so I have to keep making shit until it isn't shit anymore.

And keep bitching about it here. :-)

OH! And I almost forgot, because I put this on Facebook. New t-shirt!!