Friday, March 18, 2016

A Little Fun with Skull Blocks

This is another experiment spurred on by the Chicago Modern Quilt Guild's meeting all about the drunkard's path block. For some reason the shape of skulls carved into early American grave markers that I saw in Charlotte, SC last summer made me think of using this accuquilt drunkard's path die to make some skull blocks.

My sketch for this one was pretty basic - I just wanted to try and see what it would look like. Seems just replacing one of the four blocks with a "jawbone" would create a skull shape.

I stitched up a tester block late one night. This was also a great opportunity for me to play with free-motion quilting. Because it's not my style, I am primarily a straight line quilter! And seriously, FMQ is a bit intimidating.

The test block turned out pretty dang good! Next I wanted to see how the blocks would look stitched up with a patterned fabric, and how they would fit together. I dug out some vintage bright colored scraps from the scrap bin (I may have had springtime on my mind, because it looks a lot like spring fabric, right?).

I used free-motion stitches to add features to each of the skulls. It started to look festive and sugar-skull-like, so I filled in around with some flowers and leaves, and I finished it off to be a little springtime skull mini-quilt.

I don't know what will happen next with this idea, or if I will take this any further, but it was definitely a fun little experiment!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Polyester Red and White Quilt: A Good Find!

I just picked up this vintage red and white hexi flower quilt in Wisconsin last weekend and had to share it with you! I saw it peeking out from underneath an afghan in an antique store, and had to take a closer look - and then couldn't leave the store without this.

The top is hand pieced from vintage polyester fabrics, measuring 64" wide by 78" tall. What do you think these scraps were before they became a quilt-a leisure suit or maybe a 60's A-line mini dress? Look at all the texture in these fabrics, they're fantastic!

It was in pretty good shape, just needed a few repairs on the top where some of the pieces were coming apart.

The simple quilting makes loop-de-loops over each and every hexi.

And there's lots of different fabrics in this quilt, four different reds and I can't even count all the different patterns and textures of white. 

The backing is plain muslin, and the binding is nicely done in red, following along the hexagonal edges of two sides of the quilt.

Best of all, it's got my favorite color - RED! Love it!

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Sacred Heart Quilt

Last year we had a really interesting program at the Chicago Modern Quilt Guild where we spent one whole afternoon learning about the drunkard's path quilt block. While this is a traditional block, many quilters are using variations on this block to make very modern quilts.

I'm not really a "block" quilter, but right away this block gave me a few ideas. And, my goal was to finish this quilt for an official Drunkard's Path Modern challenge by a February deadline for the spring International Quilt Festival in Chicago. Unfortunately, in what seems to be an ongoing trend, I missed the deadline due to everyday-life-events getting in the way of sewing. But I think my guild comrades did enter, and I can't wait to see their quilts in the exhibit next month!

But I digress - I saw a way that you could use this block to create a heart shape, which I imagined as a Sacred Heart, and got a few sketches down in my book.

After thinking about it for a few weeks, I changed my design, and finalized it with a little pattern to help me cut and sew the blocks.

So, working at my own pace, I just finished putting the final stitches on the binding last night!

All of the blue and red fabrics were over-dyed in red, medium blue, and dark blue fiber reactive dyes. I really love the look of over-dyed fabrics for patchwork. The different manufacturing processes, fiber content, and finishing in the fabrics results in really great gradations in the colors. Most of the fabrics are pretty new, but there are a few vintage pieces in there - and the vintage cottons seem to absorb the dyes very well.

The flames are scraps of fabrics I hand dyed a few years ago, and are made with simple raw-edged appliqué.

The quilting was a no-brainer, I think I had the pattern for the quilting in my mind before even finalizing this design! Echo-quilting in the heart shape, and an outward aura from the center of the circle shape inside the heart. Just a bit of outline quilting in the flame.

I even managed to sneak a bit of Star Trek TOS fabric in one or two blocks (did you see it in there?)!

I made one other little min-quilt with a different drunkard's path block idea which I'll share with you soon, but I think that's about it for me and this block. Time to move on to something new.

What about you - have you ever used the drunkard's path block? And what do you have next on your to-sew list?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Vintage Signature Toy Sewing Machine

I thrifted this little guy last weekend! I almost left the store without it, but thankfully my BQF (best quilting friend) Tricia talked me into picking it up.

Great color combination, a salmon pink bottom, and a light green/medium green machine.

And the machine came with the original manual and accessories pouch which has two needles, a needle threader, and measuring tape.

I threaded it up and discovered that it didn't quite sew right. It's a chainstitch machine, and the hook/paddle underneath the machine was out of time with the needle. I managed to fix it and get it going.

The chainstitch looks like a straight stitch on the top, but when you look at the back it almost looks like a single row of crochet.

Compared to the Sew-Rite toy sewing machine I found last year, this little guy is really rough. It's very loud, very touchy, and came out of time very easily. I planned to shoot a little video of the machine running, but I couldn't keep it in time long enough!

So, no go for sewing with this wee machine. But, this little guy will look fantastic on display in my sewing space!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Color Wheels as Inspiration for Quilters

As quilters we work directly with color in found fabrics, that's how we make the patterns and designs in our finished quilts. We're not printing with colored inks, working with colored light, or mixing colored pigments to create our designs (unless you are hand dyeing all of your fabrics). And it can be a real challenge pulling together different solid or printed fabrics to communicate an idea or create a pleasing palette for a quilt design. Because we quilters are a creative bunch, we've have discovered the color wheel as an inspiration for helping to choosing fabric color combinations.

But the color wheel has sometimes been represented as the only correct way to create a pleasing color palette. The modern color wheel as we know it was never meant to create hard-and-fast rules, or as a way to limit the imagination to a finite number of color combinations. The color wheel is used within the exploration of Color Theory as a tool to learn about color relationships and expand on what color preferences already exist within you.

Our modern color wheel has evolved from the work of scientists, philosophers, physicists and artists striving to better understand the phenomenon of human color perception through the study of Color Theory. In a way, it's nearly impossible to say that any one person can be a real Expert in Color Theory, as it encompasses so many disciplines; physics as it applies to light and the atomic structure of objects, biology as it applies to the human eye, neurology as it applies to the brain, and psychology as it applies to human reactions to color perception.

While you don't have to study all of these aspects of Color Theory to use the color wheel, it is a good idea to have some basic understanding about what the wheel represents and where it came from. In this way you're free to use any color wheel as inspiration to enhance or add to your own personal color ideas - and not feel restricted to only using set combinations in one color system.

In this article we'll look quickly at the three distinct systems that can be used in color wheels. In the next article we'll look more closely at the color relationships formed around a color wheel.

First, a quick glossary of Color Theory terms used when talking about the color wheel. Take a quick look, and refer back for a quick definition.

COLOR WHEEL is a basic representation of a color system in which the colors are represented in a circular way, and in hue order.

HUE is a technical term for color, and in Color Theory this term refers to the basic name of the a color. For instance, (show a color, give the hue name and a non-hue name). In this article, we'll be using specific hues when talking about the color wheel.

TINT is a hue that has been mixed with white. Often light tints are referred to as pastel colors, such as pastel pink.

TONE is a hue that has been mixed with gray. Often times adding gray to a color makes it look dull, or toned down.

SHADE is a hue that has been mixed with black. Shades of hues often appear very dark, and the brilliance of a color as red or yellow will be dulled.

PRIMARY colors in a system are those colors that cannot be mixed from any other colors. In the subtractive color system (like paints) red, yellow, and blue can be mixed to make other colors - but no other colors can be mixed together to create a true red, yellow, or blue hue. Color systems are often referred to by the first initials of it's three primary colors (RYB = red, yellow, blue).

SECONDARY colors in a system are those made by mixing each of the primaries together.

TERTIARY colors in a system are those made by mixing one primary with one secondary color.

There are three distinct color systems that can be displayed in a color wheel. Since we are working with found color in our fabrics, we can actually use any one of the THREE color wheels to inspire our color choices. And interestingly enough, you will find different results by looking at the same kinds of relationships in each of the different systems.

You will notice that most color wheels display 12 basic hues in the form of a circle. This format was standardized by Johannes Itten (an important name in the world of Color Theory) in the mid 20th century. His color wheel theories evolved from years of teaching fine art students to work with color by completing countless color exercises with paint. Itten discovered that using more than 12 hues in a color wheel became too difficult for students to interpret, as the additional hues were harder to distinguish from it's neighbors around the wheel. He noted that 12 hues were just different enough to clearly identify each of them while still allowing for exploration of many different combinations and possibilities.

Itten created this particular style of color wheel for his beginning students, centralizing the primary colors in the wheel, secondary colors in a second layer, and all 12 hues in the outer wheel. Let's look at our three common color systems using Itten's format.

Subtractive Color System (RYB)

Artist's have been working with this system for hundreds of years, which is why this color wheel is the most common. The name "subtractive" comes from how we perceive color. As a for-instance let's imagine you are looking at a red painting. Light waves hit the surface of the painting, the colors of light that we don't see are absorbed (or subtracted) by the surface of the paint, and the remaining red wavelengths of light are reflected back to our eye, which we perceive as color. Learn more about this process here.

Primary colors of this system are Red, Yellow and Blue.

Mix each primary together to create the secondary colors:
Red + Yellow = Orange
Yellow + Blue = Green
Blue + Red = Violet

Mix each primary with a secondary to create the tertiary colors:
Red + Orange = Red-orange
Orange + Yellow = Yellow-orange
Yellow + Green = Yellow-green
Green + Blue = Blue-green
Blue + Violet = Blue-violet
Violet + Red = Red-violet

I bet you are already familiar with this system, as it's taught to young children when learning to paint. At the basic level, kids learn the three primaries mix together to make the secondary colors. Here's an example, a mixed paint picture made by my kiddo in Kindergarten in which she learned how to create secondary colors from the primaries.

In theory, mixing all colors together in this system creates black, but it doesn't really work that way. Mixing all three primaries together results in a dull, dark muddy gray. These three primaries also restrict the number of colors that can be made, and artists have learned to add other colors to their palettes not found in this system - like black, chartreuse, cyan and magenta or fuchsia.

All hues in this wheel are described using the very basic hue names red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet (or purple). This is a deliberate color language meant to make it easier for artists to communicate about color. Hues are always described by the first most dominant hue, followed by the less dominant. For example, you may call this apple below a "golden" apple. But if I were to communicate to a fellow artist I'd say it is a yellow, yellow-green color overall, with a very small amount of orange or red added in spots.

The color "golden apple" may be imagined as a different color to different people. But if you each are looking at a standard Artist's color wheel and using the same color names, you can both more closely image what the color yellow, yellow-green is.

Additive Color System (RGB)

The additive color system is one of light. It's how the screen you are most likely reading this blog post from creates seemingly endless combinations of colors from just three. Coincidentally, it's also the system your eyes use to detect color! In the additive system, the three primaries are red, green, and blue.

Primary colors of this system are Red, Green, and blue.

Add each of the primary colors together to create:
Red + Green = Yellow
Green + Blue = Cyan
Blue + Red = Magenta

Add each primary with a secondary color to create:
Red + Yellow = Orange
Yellow + Green = Chartreuse
Green + Cyan = Aquamarine
Cyan + Blue = Azure
Blue + Magenta = Violet
Magenta + Red = Rose

In this system, adding all colors together (or just the three primaries) will give you white light. The absence of all colors will result in black (no light). To play around with this system, you need only to find a computer program that allows you to have control over the RGB settings (like Adobe

The spectrum of visible light is really fascinating! You can read more about it here.

Partitive Color System (CMY)

Partitive color is what you see when looking closely at photos in the newspaper, small dots of overlapping color used to create the illusion of many colors from just a few. The primary colors in this system are cyan, yellow, and magenta.

Think funny papers, comic books, or magazine adds to give you an idea of the overlapping qualities of partitive color.

Primary colors of this system are Cyan, Magenta, Yellow.

Overlap each of the primary colors to create:
Cyan + Magenta = Violet
Magenta + Yellow = Orange
Yellow + Cyan = Green

Overlap each of the primary colors with a secondary to create:
Cyan + Green = Blue-green
Green + Yellow = Yellow-green
Yellow + Orange = Orange-yellow
Orange + Magenta = Red
Magenta + Violet = Violet-red
Violet + Cyan = Blue

In this system, black is a separate color not able to be produced by the overlapping of any of the other colors. In the printing world, black is often signified as the letter K (CMYK) to signify four basic printing colors of cyan, magenta,yellow and black.

Coincidentally, the CMY color wheel has been in the quilting spotlight the past several years, as many quilting books and tools have been published based on using this color wheel. But it's not the only system or even the best one to use, it's just the one that some authors and teachers seem to prefer.

As I've mentioned above, because we're working with found color in our fabrics, we can look at any of these three color systems to find inspiration. Taking a quick look at the three color systems above, you can see how quilts made using these three different color wheels might appear very different. If a quilt block used the three primary colors of a system, there would be three distinct possibilities of color combinations (red-yellow-blue, red-green-blue, or cyan-magenta-yellow). All three are valid, but each gives drastically different results.

In the next article we'll look specifically at the relationships found between the colors within the wheel that form the basic color combinations inspired by a color wheel. And even closer at WHY some of these relationships are so important (it's not just a coincidence!). Until then, check out some resources below to learn more, and keep your eye out for a basic color wheel tool at your local quilt or art store, they are often between $5 and $15 bucks, and well worth the cost.


Color Matters is a fun website to poke around at and learn more about Color Theory, especially if you've got a bit of a rid to work on the train or bus.

Color Basics Lessons are short and sweet lessons, easy to browse while taking a coffee or tea break.

Artist's RYB Color Wheel, available online, at fine arts stores, and in some quilting stores. I highly recommend picking up one of these for learning more about color theory. This is the best tool for the price at $10 or less, and can be used for color inspiration, and matching fabric colors to true hues.

The CMY Color Wheel, a little harder to find in stores, but a great tool to have on hand.

Quilter's Color Wheel, it's a simpler version of the Artist's Color Wheel above, but gives you little cut out windows within the wheel for color matching fabrics.

Itten's Color Star, developed as an intense study aid for artists to delve deeper into color relationships.

Color Paddle Set, this tool is a fun way to explore color mixing by using additive color (by using lights with the clear gels) or as subtractive color (by looking through the gels).

Last but not least, check out my other posts on Color Theory here.