Tuesday, April 09, 2019

The Value of Violet - The quilting

Judging at MQX is done, so I am comfortable sharing the rest of the details on this quilt. I realize that some have seen the quilt already in person at MidAtlantic, but I get superstitious about a new quilt's judging where MQX is concerned. This is almost always the first show I send any new quilt to because the quality of judges and the value of their critique is unmatched. Though it did win viewer's choice at MidAtlantic, part of me wishes I had waited to enter it. The comments from the judges were shallow, as though they didn't really look at the details to comprehend the thought processes that went into its making. Life goes on. There is always another show. I am thrilled that those who attended the show recognized what I feel is this quilt's potential. To me, it is my best quilt made to date. It may not win ribbons everywhere it goes, but maybe it can inspire somebody.
A few weeks ago I showed you the top and explained some things about its making. Now, let's look at the quilting. Typically, I spend ~6-8 months getting the quilting on a large quilt finished. Looking at the dates on my photos, I started the quilting in April, and finished the quilting some time in September. It would have been loaded, removed and reloaded onto the longarm several times, depending on my inspiration and client workload.

This is the first quilt for which I attempted trapunto. Back in 2011 or 2012, I took a basic trapunto class at MQX. We worked on a 15"x15" sample piece. It was fun, right up to the point that I snipped through the quilt top (while I was clipping the trapunto). For those unfamiliar, cut-away trapunto is done by quilting portions of the quilt with just a batting. You then go back and snip (very carefully) around the perimeter of the quilting. You will then reload the top with whatever battings are desired and quilt the entire quilt. It's time-consuming as well as risky.

I wanted to bring a subtle awareness to the fuchsia in the quilt through thread. To test if this might work, I started with a small sample of the outer border, which is made from 1" purple squares. I even went so far as to put gray silk beside it so I could see if the cutaway looked natural by the much more sheer fabric.
My quilting plan for the sample was exactly what I envisioned for the real quilt -- more orange peels. This is clearly intentional to bring part of the quilt's piecing/applique into the quilting. In this case, I chose to densely quilt on the trapunto areas to bring this thread color onto the fabric. 
The next step is to take the quilt off and very carefully snip around the trapunto.  You have to snip close to the stitched line, but not too close! Cutting a line of stitching means it has to be fixed. It does create a lot of waste batting, but that is part of the process. "Real" trapunto quilters (those that leave the shapes not quilted on) usually use a lofty batting like poly or wool, but because I was quilting on these orange peels, I chose an easy batting to cutaway - Hobbs 80/20. I was still planning to double batt the entire quilt, so adequate loft was not a concern. 

Here is my finished sample, after it is batted and backed. I gave it some background quilting in the areas around the orange peels that might be similar to what I would eventually do. Can you see how the peels pop?! The trapunto test was a success to me. 
 This would be done on the quilt's large outer border as well as in one other location on the point central border.
Now let's fast forward a bit...Trapunto is stitched, trimmed. Quilt is reloaded with backing and batting...Here we go. Let's do the rest of the quilting. First, though a quick look at the trapunto outer border beside the quilt.
 Many people ask what order I quilt things on a large quilt. Is the SID done first? Do I just keep changing thread colors as needed? There is no simple answer to this question, because it may be done differently on each quilt. For this one, though, I started at the top, quilted that purple border, then I proceeded to baste the entire quilt. I gave it a grid of 1/2" basting stitches every 4", and in both directions. Doing this enables me to move around the quilt, and to use whatever color thread I desire, when I want to. While this quilt has a lot of items that could be ditch stitched, it also has larger areas that just cannot be left unquilted. That makes the process tricky. After basting, the ditching was done, using a clear monofilament nylon thread.
Often I approach the quilting with much of it designed. This was not the case on this quilt though. I think I was just sensing time was of the essence to get quilting on it. Off and away I went!...

The design I chose for the pieced-diamond corners (above) attempted to marry an interpretation of clam shells with a fill motif that I thought mimicked the avant-garde "flowers" I appliqued in the lower corners of the border (see below). This spiky shape was reinvented within the clam shells. I should mention that some patterns, though different as in the case of clam shells and pumpkin seed, derive from a similar shape, and thus work very nicely together. Am I crazy? yes, probably, but I do think about these things too when I choose what to quilt where.

Now, for a look at the finished corner...
I think all of the curves play nicely together. To help set them off, I added the outer frame in a fuchsia color thread that was filled with swirls. Denser quilting was placed inboard of it to set it off. The diamond basket weave flat fill was quilted with a 100wt silk thread so that the fabrics showed and not the thread, but all other motifs on these corners were (I think) 40wt thread. The 1/4" linear pattern outside of the last frame has just enough texture to show on its own. Remember, effective quilting is all about selecting patterns to place beside one another that show both individually as well as together. 

Moving on...

Some of the backgrounds on this quilt were very printed. I do like what this brings to the texture of a finished quilt. It certainly poses as a challenge, though, when quilting and trying to see what on earth you are doing (unless you are using a contrasting color thread, which was not the case). With that thought in mind...I second guessed these small pumpkin seeds, because half of the time I just couldn't see them. In the end, they are still there, but they only show when the light is just so. Deciding what to use for motifs is not always easy. The notion of repeating piecing into the quilting, as I did here, helps to create unity for the overall quilt. And, after all, I just couldn't use linear lines everywhere there was print! 
As an aside...you can see the second location (above) that I decided to put the trapunto. This time, the quilting in fuchsia thread is in a finer silk, so that it has a more delicate effect on the solid purple fabric.

On to the applique border now. This area of the quilt already has great interest since this is where the applique is located. The problem I created, though, is that I also used the very solid gray silk here too -- and for me, traditionally, locations where I put silk are places I hope and expect to have more showy quilting. Delicate, detailed quilting does not show well on the print, but it does on the silk.

I don't really know how this particular design for the space behind the applique came about, but the general feeling of this quilt has always been one leaning towards the Asian influences to me. I remember this awesome Japanese garden I used to visit in San Francisco (back when I lived in No Cal). It had peaceful pagodas, koi ponds, simple gardens, and appealing meandering walkways. The serpentine walkway look came from that memory.
I included the random stacked bricks in my book Dense & Dainty, and always wanted a location that it just felt right. This was the one. It is also bordered with bricks turned on end, to give a more realistic feeling. This part of the quilting is stitched in a lavender thread. Though it does not show in t he photo above, it does show in the real quilt. I also quilt around the blocks more than one time so that the line between blocks is pronounced and darker in color.
I created  this very low-tech cardstock pattern to create the walkway shape. They were marked as I quilted them because I didn't have it planned well enough before it was loaded.
The space around the brick ways is quilted in gray silk thread. These 1/8" spaced lines are very effective at popping the applique, but were a complete pain given the massive number of knotting and burying of threads this entailed.
 Here's the finished border.
The only area I have not discussed is the center of the quilt. It is easy to look at this and just see 100 orange peels and background. I staged the color gradation of the petals to be lighter at the center to draw the viewer's eye inwards. I wanted the quilting to do this too. Creating a central focal point is important, especially on medallion-style quilts that do have an intended visual center.
I placed a very-visual diamond at the center. I also created a secondary frame outboard of that. Both of these frames consist of two 1/4" channels so that they show more effectively on the printed Kaffe gray fabric. Putting dense linear lines on both sides of the frame enhances the frames' visibilities.  

Originally, I was going to use two or 3 different floral fills for the silk areas, but you may notice that in the finished quilt (a couple pictures down from here), I have just one. I got to yank out the more ruffly flowers because I didn't think the variety was effective. Sucky? yup...but life goes on.

The quilting on the silk petals themselves is all identical. You could say I learned my lesson with the backgrounds :-)  I actually pulled this leafy-feather design from a 2015 quilt of mine, Bouquet Royale. A similar version was used on the almond shapes surrounding the center medallion.
On The Value of Violet, different color 40wt poly threads were used for these orange peel pieces. The quilting was not done in silk, as I often do on silk fabric. Mostly, I wanted the added texture that a colored thread brings.

Here are a couple pictures of the backside of the quilt... The backing is not a solid, which I often choose. It is a pretty, Gingko leaf print reminiscent of Asian designs. The quilting on this quilt was such that I knew there would be every color bobbin from white to dark purple. I opted for a print because I didn't know what solid color backing might be best. Lazy?...yea, a little!
 Kinda pretty from the backside!
I'm almost done...

How about a relatively brief discussion on embellishments. The quilt does have some subtle things added after it was finished to enhance it's appearance.

Remember the frames I quilted to the center of the medallion? When I saw the finished quilt laying on the floor AND when I knew that the binding/edge would have the bright white prairie points, I knew that the center really needed the white too. It needed a small punch, nothing too heavy, to bring the viewer's eye inwards. The white at the outer border would serve to move the eye outwards. At that point, though, I'd have to go with paint. It was too late to applique. I always approach paint and fabric as a last resort, knowing that in the blink of an eye I could completely botch a finished quilt that has somewhere between 800-1000 hours invested. This is painted with a white paint with a pearlescent colorless extender. It has a subtle sheen. It took about 3 coats to cover the Kaffe print, but the end result is good.
The other things I did were to add embroidery around the perimeter of every orange peel. It is in a color floss that is slightly darker than the silk. And it took what felt like near forever! It is so hard to embroider at the middle of a finished quilt. Someday, just someday, I will think of these things before the top is sandwiched with multiple layers of batting! I also added the delicate ring of pearls around the center circle. I did not add crystals or pearls to go over the top. This is a very traditional quilt, and it needs that simpler, understated elegance.

There were a couple places I hand couched a perle cotton floss in deep fuchsia. It helps to give a finished look here. It is stitched on with a matching SoFine thread.
In this location, you can see where I traveled numerous times with a pink thread. There is too much backtracking...too much to leave and too much to try to mask with purple Sharpie. Whoops, my secret is out!...
So, with the same perle cotton, I hand couched another line of embroidery thread across this area. What's another 10 hours between friends?...Seriously, all of this hand embroidery and hand-couching is extremely time consuming. I spent nearly ~60-70 hours doing all of it.
I don't weigh how long something will take when trying to decide whether or not to do it. It all comes down to "Will it make this a better, more finished quilt". Then the answer is very simple. 
The last area I embroidered around are these white appliqued swags. In this case, I chose 3 strands of white satin floss. It gives the edge of the appliques an interesting effect, almost a texture and a sheen.
Just before I brought this to the MQX owner, I thought I'd take one stab at fixing a couple of places where the older embroidery thread bled (see below). On a quilt many years ago, I marked the pieces with Sharpie pen, and some of this remained on the edges of the pieces. After I blocked the quilt, this sharpie bled to the top and back of the quilt. I was successful getting it out using rubbing alcohol. So...I dabbed a Q-tip in alcohol and went to rub the bleed spot. Almost instantaneously, the bleed blossomed and spread. It was the colossus "oh-shit" moment if ever there was one.  
Because I had already bound the quilt with all the scallops, there was no way I was going to reblock this. I had just one last option to fix this up my sleeve...Paint. All the white paints I owned were pearly so I had to buy a jar of flat white Jacquard acrylic paint from my local artist store. I thinned this down slightly with medium that does not have a pearlescence, and gently painted away the bleed. I was extremely lucky!

So there you have it. That is all I can think of to write about this quilt. Since this has posted, it is fast forwarded 2 weeks. I don't know at the time I am writing this how it will do at MQX, if it will ribbon, or what the judges will think of my choices. That is partly why I usually keep these longer analytical posts about my decisions until after it has been seen and judged. I like judges to discover the details without them being told where they are. I hope you have enjoyed hearing about this quilt. If you have any questions, please post them here or on my facebook page (where this will also post).  I can be found here on facebook. If you post questions here, though, I can only reply if you have your blogger account enabled with an email.



Joy said...

Your work is magnificent. Your most valuable tip is when you say not to think about the time it would take to add a detail, but to think only if the quilt needs it. So many times I make the mistake of impatience.

For those of us who will only see your quilts in photographs, posts like this one, point out many of the details that are very difficult to see in photographs. Thanks for sharing.

sdrussell said...

This is wonderful. I believe that I have gone back and reread the post at least 10 times. Some of the things I did not understand until I make the pictures closer and bigger. I love all of the reasons of why and how, even the bit about the sharpie. Thank you for the posts on this quilt. Someday I really do think you should take all of the pictures and posts of why and how and turn them into a book, with all of your show quilts. Then I could sit in my easy chair and with a box of tissues near, drool over them. Thank you.

Farm Quilter said...

Gorgeous quilt! I love all the details and thought you put into this quilt. Taken as a whole, it is spectacular, but having you walk me through your thought process while you were making it really helps me look at my quilts in a totally different way. Thank you for taking the time to detail your process!!

RachelA said...

So interesting to read your process Margaret, thanks for being so generous in sharing your working methods.Fingers crossed for a ribbon or two!!

Brenda @ Songbird Designs said...

Margaret, wow o wow o wow!! I love everything about this quilt. You definitely have my vote for viewer's choice, but you would also have my vote for best of show. What were those judges thinking???!!! I have seen your beautiful work on Pinterest and have finally found your blog. I'm so glad I did. Thank you for sharing your beautiful work and your thought process with us to excite and inspire us towards being bolder and trying new things!

A pin from your Holiday Star Quilt actually brought me here. I was wondering what circle (or oval) ruler you used for those borders? What are your favorite rulers in general? I have a ton of them and just am lacking in ideas to use them!! Again, thanks for sharing your talent and the inspiration you provide!!

Seacoast Quilter said...

Thank you for all the close-ups, and the detailed explanation of your thought process. I did not get to MQX this year and I always look forward to seeing your entry. This quilt is a stunning piece of art.

Queen City Quilter said...

OMG I do not have the words to say what I am thinking.... it is amazing!

Sewing Up A Storm said...

Another amazing quilt! I just wanted to share a tip for when you have a busy fabric and can't see where you are quilting or when using black thread on black fabric. I will turn out all the lights in the room. Then I use a big shop light (I stole from my husband and it now lives in my quilt room and he had to get another one for the garage). I will shine the light from the side and then it is so easy to see where you have already quilted.

I use sharpie to hide quilted blurps. I never thought about it bleeding, might have to rethink that trick.

I really like the trupunto orange peels. They are so effective and add such a great element to your quilt.

I always love reading about all the details you put into your quilts. I agree that it is not important how long things take. If it makes the quilt better and you are entering it in a show you just have to bite the bullet and do it.

I hope to see your quilt at a show somewhere this next two years maybe.

M and M plus 3 said...

As a new machine quilter, your post is invaluable! Your work is spectacular! I can't wait to continue reading your blog. Thank you for willingly sharing your talent.