Back in the Before Times, February 2020, I went on a trip that included a stop in Japan, which for me meant a stop in Nippori Textile Town aka Fabric Heaven. My dear friend Marie was expecting a baby, and I wanted to make her a little something… then I found this sheep fabric and it was just PERFECT.
Marie loves knitting, and animals, so by association she loves sheep and alpacas – they’re both adorable AND they help make yarn. I loved these cute baby sheep, plus the fabric was gray – extra perfect since I didn’t know the baby’s gender yet.
By the time I started on the quilt, of course, we were in full stay-at-home, mask-up mode. A trip to Japan was as likely as a trip to Mars. I had just completed my rainbow quilt top, QUILTID-19, and in true quilter fashion, I decided to start another quilt top before actually quilting/finishing my first quilt. So I pulled fabrics from my stash to match the sheep accents: soft red, yellow, aqua, and gray; and started cutting.
After the 500+ triangles that went into QUILTID-19, I treated myself to simplicity this round and cut really big triangles, 10″ each, for a breezy 40 triangles total. The finished quilt came out to about 35 x 44″.
One of the hardest parts of quilting, for me, is laying out the blocks. I always have to play around with the layout and I never feel like it’s just right. Here on the left, you can see my “first draft”. I loved the rainbow gradient of QUILTID-19 so much that I considered trying that again, but it didn’t work AT ALL with these colors or the large blocks. I then pivoted toward a flying geese-based design. I chose the solid gray, red, and aqua as my dark contrast, and the yellow, light gray, and light red as my lights. I think this is a fun way to play with a classic quilt pattern: the large scale and the non matchy-matchy makes it more modern.
It was so refreshing to work with these large blocks and the quilt top came together so quickly!
Next it was time to quilt. I once again used my ill-advised method of basting with just straight pins. This quilt wasn’t too big, so it was much easier to wrestle through my home machine. I also didn’t need to use nearly this many pins!
I quilted with simple diagonal lines again. I like how the minimal quilting keeps quilts more lightweight and “scrunchable”. I also don’t trust myself to do intersecting quilting lines yet… I just know that will cause some puckers to get sewn down on the back of the quilt.
I didn’t want to add yet another print, so I bound the quilt in the same solid dark gray that I used for some of the blocks. This also helped to tie in the dark gray blocks, since that was the darkest color on the quilt top. The dark gray border gave it an anchor.
I always make my own quilt binding, and this one I cut on straight grain rather than the bias. Here’s how I bind my quilts. But I did the binding entirely by machine this time! No more hand sewing for me. I used this machine binding tutorial from APQS and intend to machine bind probably all of my future quilts. I also believe that machine binding will hold up better to regular machine washing.
As always, I find Clover wonder clips to be a godsend when it comes to binding.
Finally it was all done and ready to make the long journey to the UK!
Baby Benjamin and his cat friends – I’m not sure whether this is Luna or Tonks (fantastic names) – are big fans. The quilt has been part of tummy time and many a park outing and I’m so, so glad it’s being used and loved!
I also love that many of the fabrics have tiny animals on them (including more tiny sheep!). It’s so fun to think of Baby Ben becoming Toddler Ben and noticing the little zebras, sheep, and elephants on his quilt. Every baby quilt should have a little bit of I Spy to it, I think.
These are my go-to quilting items that I used on this (and every) project:
The Warm Company Warm And Natural Cotton Needled Batting 90″x96″ – this batting is so easy to work with! Natural and not too heavy.
Juki HZL-F600 – My trusty sewing machine. I finally upgraded a few years ago and this machine is just amazing. I wouldn’t have dared to machine quilt anything bigger than a placemat on my old machine.
Clover wonder clips – Perfect for pinching and holding layers together without pins.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been treating myself to what I’m calling Art Camp. Oolite Arts is a Miami Beach-based arts center, with artist residencies, art programs, and classes. Sadly, their classes have been shuttered for months now due to COVID-19 (have you heard about Florida…), but they’ve been offering virtual classes for free. No commute, no pressure, no cost… all that’s left is for me to invest the time.
Hence, Art Camp. Because it’s the weirdest summer ever, so at least I’m going to play with some paint.
I really love block printing so I was excited to join a class exploring reduction block printing, which is a technique I haven’t tried before, taught by Nick Mahshie. He’s the Oolite printmaking resident and a really fantastic teacher.
Reduction block printing produces a layered block print, but each layer comes from the same block – the block is cut away after printing each layer. It requires a LOT of advance planning, because each cut I make in the block impacts the entire future of the design. It’s intimidating because it’s a destructive process by nature. Now that I’ve finished my edition of prints, I can never make more of the exact same, because I’ve carved away and essentially destroyed the parts of the block used to make the first 2 colors of my 3-color print.
For layer 1, I carved away only the whites: the clouds and the highlights along the palm trunks. I had to think of this as “areas where I don’t want ink to be, EVER.” There’s no putting material back once you’ve carved it away.
I had every intention of following the prompt for the class – we all worked from the same source image (a palm tree photo), but each drew our own block images. This process is complicated when attempting it for the first time, so I’m glad the class was structured this way and I was glad we were all on the same page. But when it came time to print, I deviated from the script completely, and abandoned blue sky in favor of this beachy sunset. Because sunset palm trees are the palm trees I know and love.
Printing the gradient was magical. I mixed up four colors: a red-ish magenta, orange, and two shades of blue; and prepped them on an inking plate. As you can see above, I ended up using two inking plates – this helped me get enough surface to really spread the ink properly on the brayer. With one-color prints, it’s easy enough to roll the brayer in all different directions to ensure the whole area is properly inked, but with the gradient it’s crucial to only roll the brayer in one direction. Having more “runway space” with the two inking plates really helped my ink consistency.
After printing this first block, I already loved where this design was going. Next it was time to cut away everything on the block that I wanted to remain “sky”, and this meant cutting the outlines of the palm trees.
I carved away the sky portions of my block, and printed the gray layer of the palm tree silhouettes.
Here, above, is the block from the gray layer. I took this picture after I printed the gray and was starting to carve for the black layer. Planning the outlines for the black layer was tricky, and I found it easiest to draw directly on the block where I wanted the black printed areas to be.
Here is the block for the black layer. Everything is carved away except the final darkest shadows. I had used a washable marker to draw the black shadows, so I washed that away before I started my prints.
The most important part of reduction block printing, or any multi-layer block print, is proper registration. It’s crucial to make sure each layer is aligned, so the overlapping shapes end up where they’re supposed to be. My registration board is just a piece of cardboard, with a rectangle cut to the exact size of the block, and lines drawn on the bottom and right-hand side to align the edges of the paper for each print. I also cut myself a thumb hole to make it easier to remove the block out of the registration jig for each inking.
I also drew a little pencil palm tree on the side to make sure I always placed the block in right-side up! Don’t want any upside-down palm trees.
I made an edition of 12 prints total. I wanted a safe margin because there’s risk of messing up prints at every stage, and, again, there’s no going back and reprinting a previous stage because that block no longer exists. I have a few that didn’t register perfectly – the black and gray layers aren’t quite lined up – but that’s part of the nature of block printing and those prints still have charm. There are also a few where the rainbow gradient is a little blotchy because it was REALLY tough to maintain consistent inking across all the colors. But even that – it’s sky, so as the artist I say that a little bit of blotchiness still… looks like sky!
I was really glad to be working with organic shapes for the first relatively detailed block I’ve carved. The block material is soft, like an eraser, and especially on the final black layer, some of my small details and thin lines just crumbled or peeled away. And this isn’t a big deal, because they’re palm trees! They’re not perfectly uniform anyway. But if I had been trying to carve something like a building, or a design I had been considering – a lifeguard stand – the wiggly lines would become more of an issue. So I may look into different materials in the future if I want to make more precise blocks.
The whole printing process is so satisfying. I love the meditative process of carving, it’s a very “flow” activity for me. I love the methodical work of rolling out the ink for each print, and the sigh of relief when peeling back each successfully printed sheet.
But the best part is the progression. Each stage looked so good. I loved my rainbow sky gradient. It got even better with the gray silhouettes. But that final black detail layer really makes it all pop. Each layer almost felt like it could stand alone, but the final layer comes along and proves them wrong. “This is what you needed,” it says.
I’m taking more classes with Oolite and I highly recommend them! Since they’re virtual, you don’t have to be local. Art Camp for everyone!
I got a lot of questions as I was sharing these prints on Instagram and I hope my explanation of the process is enlightening. It’s such a neat method and I’m really glad I had the chance to try it.
Here’s a sped-up video of me printing the rainbow gradient.
Here’s another outline of the reduction method that really helped everything click for me: Reduction Linocut Method by Natalia Moroz. Such a gorgeous print, too!
And some Pinnables:
Painting is something I’ve always wanted to be better at, but it’s also something with a relatively steep learning curve, especially because in order to paint… one must draw. And drawing is something I’ve always been challenged by. In 2018, I decided it was time to learn to draw, and the only way to learn was through repetitive practice. I chose “draw and play” as my challenge for The 100 Day Project, and recorded my progress on Instagram with the hashtag #100daysofdrawandplay.
Throughout the project, I was amazed at how hard it was to just start. I was entirely convinced that I couldn’t draw, and possibly would never be able to draw. But every day for 80-something days (yes… I fell off the wagon before I made it to day 100…), I sat down and tried. It was so hard. My brain was constantly nagging me, saying, “you’re not any good at this,” and every few seconds as I drew I’d have to think back, “shut up brain, this is something new, I’m learning and trying.”
There were a lot of drawings that I just hated. I could see in my head what I wanted the drawing to look like, but it just didn’t make it to the paper. It was – and is – so frustrating.
But – and this principle is the heart of The 100 Day Project – it’s very hard, maybe impossible, to do something for 100 days in a row without improving. I prefer the German phrase that aligns to “practice makes perfect”: Übung macht den Meister. Literally, practice makes the master. Let’s ignore perfection and focus on the fact that practice begets improvement, and continued practice is the only true path to mastery.
My 85 paintings taught me many things, especially just how much there was to learn. I learned new ways to squint my eyes, new ways to hold my brushes. The amount of water my paper could handle; the amount of water each brush could hold. I learned that painting realistically is all about finding the light and the shadows and forgetting, entirely, what an object is shaped like and merely focusing on how the light is touching the object at that moment.
Here is another assortment of paintings. If the first grid was the highlights… this grid must be the “lowlights”. I made these during the same 3-month period, all part of the same project. So there was credence to my brain’s arguments: some of my drawings were terrible! Some days I didn’t have the patience to really dive into a painting; some days I tried to paint something that was beyond my skill level; some days I thought I was on the right track, only to finish a painting and think, “ugh.” I like to think that even on these days where I made “art” that I cringe to look at, I was still learning something. And above all else, I was building the habit of trying.
85 days of concerted effort were enough to convince my brain that maybe I can draw. Most importantly, the project convinced me that the time spent drawing wasn’t a waste, because the practice led to real improvement.
I’m sharing all this now because I want to keep trying. I still want to get better at drawing and painting, and it’s still really hard to take the time to practice and to find the strength to push through the creative walls in my brain that say, “this painting is terrible, stop painting and scroll Instagram instead” (and then, while scrolling, say “look how much better everyone else can paint”). Writing this is a reminder to myself that learning new things is hard, scary, and worth it. So I’m going to keep painting. Because what do I have to lose?
After years of pining for a laser cutter, and many hours and dollars spent renting time in various maker spaces, I finally jumped in and bought my own laser.
It’s a dream come true, and it’s also anything but easy. Most of our quality time together so far has been purely mechanical: tweaking the exhaust to make sure the fumes are extracted; calibrating lens focus and bed depth; running test cuts on each of my materials… just thinking about it wears me out!
But I’ve also had the chance to start making some art, some experiments, and some magic. I’m able to play in a way that I couldn’t justify to myself when I was paying for hourly rental time.
I spent the last few weeks tweaking an idea that finally became this Cactus Coloring Kit (now on Etsy). I’ve been thinking a lot about which direction to take my tiny business, with focus on defining my core values. My personal “mission statement”, or at least my truth, has long been, I love making things. I love making shirts, quilts, dresses, necklaces, stuffed animals……. pretty much anything but face masks. (why are masks so annoying to make??!)
This cactus coloring kit fits right into that truth: I get to make something that helps other people make something. How perfect is that? Maybe it’s someone like me, who knows that they love making things, and this kit is a nice flow activity. Or maybe it’s someone who’s decided they aren’t creative, but they want to color a cactus… then they end up with art, and realize creativity is nice and not scary. I love that I might be a part of either of those stories!
It’s a really fun product, and I am loving my job as Product Tester/Painter much more than my other job as Laser Setter-Upper/Maintenance Worker. The cactus art is as easy as a paint-by-number or coloring page, but the framed outline turns it into Art, with almost a stained glass effect.
I shipped an early concept to my cousins a few weeks back, and we had a coloring happy hour over google hangouts with progress updates every half hour or so. “How’s yours looking?” one of us would ask, then we’d all ooh and ahh at the screen. It was so much fun to be making art, separately and together.
Here’s a video of the magic. It’s so fun to watch this machine at work!
She’s DONE! My quarantine quilt, labor of love, darling QUILTID-19. A rainbow of light despite the torrential downpour that is our world these days.
A project of this magnitude deserves an all-out photoshoot, so I folded up the quilt, stuffed it in a backpack, and trekked to the park. This quilt and palm trees were just made for each other. It was such a joy for me to lay out this quilt in the bright sunshine, and I reveled in the fact (fact!) that this quilt is gorgeous. And also the very basic fact that it is finished!
I’m always curious to know what block sizes other quilters use – the ratio of block-to-quilt size has such an impact on the flow of a quilt! So here’s what I ended up with.
- Finished block size: 4 ¼”
- 15 blocks wide x 18 blocks long (270 blocks total, 540 triangles total)
- 67.5″ wide x 81″ long
I used a Queen-sized mattress as my guideline – a regular queen mattress is 60″ wide x 80″ long. So if this quilt goes on a queen bed, it will cover the top but it won’t really overhang the edges. I will probably use this quilt on top of a normal, fluffy comforter as a winter layer, so I don’t mind that it won’t cover the sides of the bed.
Of course, I made this giant quilt while living in Miami, so it’s unlikely to be used on a bed anytime soon! But I’m so glad I took the time to make it and I know I will treasure it for years to come.
Thanks for following along on my quilt journey. I hope you’ve had as much fun as I have watching it come together!
Click here to see all the posts about my Quarantine Quilt, QUILTID-19.