You’ve heard of the book, Kitchen Confidential, right?
It's the book by Anthony Bourdain, the chef who keeps saying snarky things about Paula Deen. Whether you agree or disagree with what he has said about Paula, he wrote a terrific book about what really goes on in the kitchen of a restaurant. This is sort of like that… except I’m making a little charm pack quilt instead of foie gras.
And there are no drugs. No wild sex-capades. (I wish.) And not nearly as much swearing… though I think I've already admitted that there has been some.
Over the years, the comments I hear the most, and the questions I'm most often asked, are about how the quilts come about -- specifically, why I make the choices and decisions that I do and so on. So this is about the hows, whys and huhs of figuring out how I’m going to make a little quilt using just 5” x 5” squares of fabric.
Over the course of five years and seventy-plus quilts, the look of these little quilts has changed a bit. From lots of pieced borders to more plain borders, especially using the background fabric. The quilts are also growing in that they have gradually gotten a little bigger. That hasn’t been a conscious choice so much as a by-product of the fabric styles available, the composition of the collections themselves, and a desire to not re-make the same quilt. Been there, made that already.
So what comes first, the fabric or the design - the blocks, layout, etc.? And the answer is almost always the same – both. Except that sometimes one drives the other. (Clear as mud, right?)
Bibelot started with an idea for a block but the fabric collection is what led me to this setting. I really liked the range of colors, values and scale in the Curio collection, and I felt like that mix was well-suited to something that wasn't as structured as an evenly arranged straight setting. Using sashing on just two sides of the block - and being random as to which two sides - gave me the look that I wanted.
I love red. But sometimes red doesn't play nice with softer colors. There is a reason red is deemed a "power color" - it gets noticed. After playing around with a couple of other ideas for this Pom Pom de Paris collection and not liking them at all, I decided that the red needed a more specific placement. If I had used this collection to make a quilt like bibelot, I don't think it would have worked as well. In a random setting, the red "T"s would have dominated the rest of the fabrics, and the cream prints would probably have been lost next to the light background. Leaving those cream prints out also wasn't an appealing option as it would have changed the balance of red to everything else, and I wanted this quilt to feel "lighter".
Right about now, you might be wondering why I don't just move on to something else. The problem is that I really like [insert name of collection] and I want to make something using [insert name of collection]. And sometimes, no matter how hard I try, no matter how much I like a particular collection, I don't use it because (1) the only ideas I have are for quilts that are essentially copies of things I've already done, and (2) I can't figure out how to make it work in something else.
Thankfully, other quilts are an idea in search of the right fabric.
As I sit here now, my notebook contains the ideas for twelve small quilts I could make with charm squares. My notebook also has a list of the charm packs/collections I have. In a couple of cases, I had fabric that I cut into charm squares because the fabric was perfect for something I have in mind. Some of the ideas work for every one of the collections while others only work with one or two so I make little notes about "possibilities". Which idea gets made with which collection depends on what sparks my interest on a particular day, as well as what has already been made.
I can’t speak for other quilters but I consciously look at what I’m making and compare it to what I’ve made before -- for a specific "season" (Market), in the past year, and overall. Have I used that setting before? If I did, how long ago was it? Is it exactly the same or is it different enough that the finished quilt won’t look like a clone of the first one? Do I always use that block in a diagonal setting? Does every other quilt I make with a particular designer's fabric have stars or four-patches or flying geese, etc?
I also have some self-imposed, completely arbitrary constraints. Two charm packs – that’s all I’m allowed. Yes, a couple of the early quilts were made with three but that was because there were fewer squares in the packs. Now that all Moda charm packs have 42 squares, I limit myself to making the quilt using no more than 84 charm squares. That's the starting point and the finish line. My goal is also to use between 65 and about 78 squares because that allows for some choosing of favorites, some leeway for cutting missteps and whatevers.
I have also chosen accuracy over size, meaning that I prefer to size the pieces so that I can piece accurately instead of making them as big as possible. As such, I won’t use the pinked edge unless I absolutely have to, or it doesn’t matter. When it is on the outside edge for a border, it doesn’t matter. That’s easy. If I'm making strip sets for something like four-patches, I don't worry about the pinked edges on the ends of the strips. But if I’m making four-patches, I will purposely cut the strips narrower – usually at 2 ¼” wide – than have to use the pinked edge for piecing. If I’m using charm packs, my four-patches will never finish at 4” x 4” – they will always be 3 ½” x 3 ½” or 3” x 3”.
With making size choices, one of the things that I also consider is you. Yes, you. Or rather, me in your shoes. (If you have big feet, of course.)
Which of my choices is going to bother you the least? Or the most? Is it going to make you crazy if the quilt only uses 48 charm squares? Is cutting - tossing - about 40% of the square going to be an issue for you? If I can achieve maximum efficiency and accuracy by cutting every piece using 1/8" measurements... are we going to have a problem?
For example, this is the sort of decision-process I mean:
I want to make a Bear Paw-like block with half-triangle squares on two sides. Easy enough. Except...
If I make the half-triangle squares to finish at 1 ½”, I have two options.
No. 1. I can put three half-triangle squares on each side but that means I have to use the entire 5” x 5” plain square. If I have prepped – pre-shrunk it – my charm squares, then they probably don’t still measure exactly 5” x 5”. If the blocks are set with a sashing or alternating square, I might have a little leeway to make everything fit. But if they are joined to each other, I could -- will! -- have problems assembling the quilt top as the blocks probably won't be exactly the size they should be. Precision piecers won’t be happy about that.
No. 2. If I put two half-triangle squares on each side, then my square is cut at 3 ½” x 3 ½”. That means I have leftover strips that measure a scant 1 ½” wide… unless I want to use that pinked edge. I either have to use those strips in the border where I can fudge a little bit… or they are discarded. I could put a half-triangle square in the center – that uses more of the original squares but there is more waste because the strip trimmed off is less-usable. Result? The “waste-not” folks will be grumbling.
Or I could make the half-triangle squares to finish at 1 ¼”. That means I could put three half-triangle squares on a side… except that it also means more is trimmed off the little half-triangle squares. But it makes it easier to fit things in if you like triangle paper.
But that isn’t the end of it…
Am I going to have leftover half-triangle squares? If so, how many? Is there something I can do with them? Do I have enough to make a border? If I don’t, do I have enough charm squares to make more half-triangle squares so I have enough for a border? Does this quilt even need a border? If I make the smaller block, will that make it all work? If I use yellow instead of red, can I make flying geese instead of four-patches?
This sort of explains the “colorful” language, doesn't it?
Though leftovers aren't necessarily bad. In this case, I had made a few "extras" so I could have a little more variety. These leftovers were sewn together and they might eventually be a pincushion.
(Just so you know... these half-triangle squares are for a new quilt I'm going to call Charlotte. The half-triangle squares finish at 1 ¼” x 1 ¼” and you don't want to know how many of them there are... not yet, anyway.)
Since I don't really have any pictures of "new stuff" to show right now, I'm going to continue telling you everything you didn't want to know about how the Schnibbles come about. Next up will be fabric selection... or why I use this one and not that one.
I know. You just can’t wait.