Quilting projects: creativity is all about trial and error

“The best laid plans”.  “Learn from your mistakes.”  “It’s all about serendipity.”  All of these phrases play into any creative activity, whether it’s writing poems or a piece of music, painting, woodworking, or, indeed, making quilts. You start with a relatively strong sense of confidence in your concept. You can’t wait to get started. You know there will be twists and turns along the path to completion – well, actually, you usually forget that until it happens yet again, but the happy reality is that overcoming unanticipated stumbling blocks as you work through your project usually increases the creative quality of the final product.  It’s part of the journey.

All that having been said, I still wasn’t prepared for how big the twists and turns would be that I had set for myself when I started a new quilting project recently. Lots of lessons learned. The overriding take-away is that a “random” pattern can’t truly be random in order to end up” looking random”. In other words, I should have had a much more thorough plan in place when I started. And the superior plan should have had a clear expectation for how patterned fabric could be incorporated to best effect. I’m still not sure how I’d do this, but since I’m making similar quilts for two small grandsons, I’ll soon have a chance to approach the planning phase differently for the second one!

I’ve never followed quilt designs too faithfully, but the designs I’ve followed previously have always had clear geometric shapes and structures, and I’d always used fabrics where no pattern on one fabric overwhelmed other fabrics. Unfortunately, this project didn’t really follow either of these paths.

Initial inspiration

When I decided to make quilts for these two little cuties, I started by googling images of “quilt patterns for little boys”. With my usual non-conformist approach, I was attracted to the least “little boy” image, mostly because it seemed like it would give lots of flexibility. As you can see in picture (if you look closely enough!), it is made up of just three different types of squares and it uses lots of different fabrics, with one patterned fabric covered in little dinosaurs. Surely, I could use any fabrics and it’d be great!

Of course, there are always guiding principles. My guiding principles were that I had certain colours requested by their lovely Mama to complement the new colours in their rooms. In particular, muted colours were the name of the game. Hmm. Most fabrics made for kids don’t feature muted colours. But not to worry, I’d find something. I went looking for fabric that had little cars and trucks on it, or maybe Thomas the Tank Engine, preferably with a background of a sort of soft moss green. That didn’t get me too far, although I did find a Snoopy fabric with a muted soft green background. The only problem was that along with Snoopy there were also “USA” logos plastered all over it. (Perhaps someday someone can explain why Canadian stores order fabric – and greeting cards – that are U.S.-specific. Do people actually buy them?) I found some moderately acceptable fabric with tractors sprinkled on it, but the words “John Deere” were far larger than the tractors! And, of course, few kid-oriented fabric has a background that could be considered muted by any stretch of the imagination. So I focused more on fabrics with animals and ended up with two piles of fabric that I thought I could work with to create these two quilts. Step #1 complete. I was on my way.

Fabric for quilt #1

Pile of fabric for quilt #2

This is where I started to go wrong, unknowingly of course. Ignorance is bliss. I spent lots of time figuring out how many of each of the three types of squares I would cut out, and which fabrics I would use for each type of square. I was still thinking random, and wanted to ensure that all fabrics were represented more or less equally, especially the patterned fabrics. Lots of measuring and cutting later, I had 192 pieces cut out to turn into 80 6”x6” squares. Step #2 complete. Lookin’ good.

My careful calculations

Cut pieces all ready to be turned into squares

Time to sew the 2-piece squares and 4-piece squares together. At that point it dawned on me that my 4-piece squares were looking a lot more chaotic than the ones in my little google picture, due to the “enthusiasm” of the patterned fabric. More chaotic than would be good. So I made further calculations, cut out a few more small pieces of fabric, and put together the 4-piece squares so that there was only one kind of patterned fabric and one solid fabric in each assembled square. Definitely less chaotic looking. Step #3 completed. Happy with my improvised improvement.

Minimizing the randomness within each square

Now for my favourite step, taking all assembled bits and pieces and laying them out on the floor to check out and admire my intended arrangement. There’s always a bit of rearranging at this point, but … argh! My first shot at this reminded me of something that the mathematician in me already knew: true randomness on a small scale doesn’t look random; random doesn’t mean everything spread out evenly. This looked awful; chaos reigned. The geometric interest of the 2- and 4-piece squares were totally lost in the chaos of the patterned fabrics, especially the moose. 🙂 This was not going to work at all.

My design consultant – my husband – agreed that it might work better if I separated each square with a neutral, offsetting colour. I rearranged the squares several times, finally decided that the moose had to be equally spread across the quilt to calm them down, and finally ended up deciding to separate just by columns. (OK, the moose took centre stage more than I had anticipated, but it’s Canada’s 150th birthday, what can you do?) I had hoped to find a broadcloth to join them that would be that elusive muted soft moss green, but no such luck. This is where I ended up. From the initial inspiration above … to this!

Quilt top ready for quilting

Lessons learned:

  1. If you work with busy patterns, you should probably stick with just one. Busy patterns cry out to be noticed!
  2. Your colours, your geometric structures, AND any “loud” fabric patterns ALL need to be taken into consideration when deciding on your layout. I haven’t quite figured out how I will put this into action yet, but I’ll have it clearly in mind when planning for quilt #2.
  3. I had forgotten how much fun it is to start a quilting project. What a great alternative to dwelling on the world news!

Now to decide on the design for the quilting stage. Keep it simple, right?!!

Google quilt source: Pinterest

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6 Responses to Quilting projects: creativity is all about trial and error

  1. Very adventurous and lovely! I love making my own patterns but haven’t been at the quilt table for almost a year! You have inspired me! Can’t wait to see more of what you have pieced together!

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Rita. It seems to me you have the very same inspiration I have, a new little grandson!! And think of all the farm-theme fabrics just waiting to be put together to teach Declen about your life. It’s a tough pull to be indoors when all those farm babies are wanting your attention, but starting a quilt is a good project for rainy days! 🙂

  2. DM says:

    I too am a non-conformist! Back in 2007/2008 I took up cross stitching…I found it very satisfying and relaxing. Home made quilts are one of the ultimate gifts as far as I’m concerned…the hours and hours invested, made by someone who knows you..I hadn’t realized you were a quilter. DM

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Now cross-stitching is something I haven’t tried! I guess I haven’t posted about quilting for a while now, but for sure it is one of my main creative outlets. One of my blogging friends in VA introduced me to the concept of a barn quilt, which I’d never encountered. Is that something you have yourself? If not, it strikes me that it could be right up your alley, DM! 🙂

      • DM says:

        I have made a one of a kind barn quilt! Called a quilting shop before doing it, just to make sure what I envisioned was in fact a quilt style.. (instead of the geometric designs normally seen around here/ this was quilt with pictures of a dozen different wild flowers of Iowa surrounding a map of our state.

  3. Gill says:

    Am very anxious to see your quilts, they look great so far! I usually end up running out and adding more fabric!!

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