“Irrational”: In Our Own Words Quilt

On International Women’s Day of this year, Kim Soper of Leland Ave. Studios kicked off a project called the “In Our Own Words” quilt: “We are workers, caretakers, survivors and creators who deserve to have our voices heard and our merits celebrated. We are strong, powerful, beautiful, talented, kickass… the list is endless.”

The word “irrational” has been used as a way to describe women in modern sexism. She’s emotional, she’s hormonal, she’s irrational, she’s crazy. For centuries, we’ve prioritize rationality over all else. We see rationality as a superior way to live. These have led to many amazing scientific discoveries and many other benefits to the world. But what have we lost by holding so firmly to reason?

I am an intuitive person. I come to ideas holistically. I can often feel that something is right, whether it’s quilt related,an outfit combo, or even a moral choice. With my quilt block, I want to re-appropriate the word “irrational”. I have really come to embrace the way I think. I’m wired to see a big vision and then figure out how that vision fits all the smaller parameters of the problem at hand after. It’s not totally irrational, but it’s not rational either.

I love hand lettering, so I welcomed the chance to figure out how to stitch my word. I’m not the most experienced at embroidery, so I drew out the 3.5″ x 6.5″ block on a larger piece of Kona white and used an embroidery hoop to help keep my fabric taut. Using a back stitch for the thinner parts of the letters and a chain stitch for the broader part of the “brush stroke.”

Back of the block

I had a professor in my first year of undergrad affirm that intuition was a legitimate way to come to a design solution. This felt completely foreign to me — someone telling me that it was okay to have a conclusion based on a vision rather than a well-laid argument that was synthesized. She went on to say that “post-rationalization” was ok. Why was this post-rationalization step necessary, after she told me that my design work was legit the way it was? I’ve come to understand it better in the many years that have passed since that conversation.

When I’m communicating or teaching, these are times when an emotion or intuition needs to be explained. If I’m trying to have someone else understand what I’m doing or how I’m feeling, I need to be able to explain it to them. If I’m trying to appeal to their rational understanding rather than their emotional empathy, I need to show them what I mean.

For example, I have a way of putting colours together,I’m told. Like many others, I just do it without thinking. But if I’m teaching students how to put colours together, I have to rationalize it so they can understand it. I can’t give them my intuition; I can only give them tools and a process to think through what they’re doing. In giving them that understanding and equipping them with tools, they can eventually do it on their own.

My block says this: I like being irrational. It makes me me. It makes humans human. We’re not robots or algorithms. We are human.

Everyone’s Got an X

Last year, I had a few people around me see the end of their marriages. The sadness hit me pretty hard as I put myself in their shoes. Life as you imagined it is no longer. It’s a time of grief; it’s the loss of what you dreamt of. During those difficult times, there is a need for comfort in grief and a need to create a new home for a new start.

Quilts are often gifted to mark an occasion – a wedding, the arrival of a new baby. These are times of celebration and joy. The Double Wedding Ring quilt functions as a symbol of two lives intertwining. Pen and Paper Patterns’ Vegas Wedding quilt is a fun and quicker take on the traditional design. The Free-Wheeling Single Girl pattern by Denyse Schmidt is a great modern spin on the design and celebrates singleness rather than marriage.

When it comes to divorce, we think of things falling apart. But it is also a new beginning. A rebuilding of a new life. A new place to live, maybe. The design for Everyone’s Got an X came from this new start. Why shouldn’t a new divorcé get a new quilt for a refreshed home decor?

Image courtesy of Quilt Con Magazine, Modern Patchwork

The design is ultra-modern – there is no grid or repeated block. It’s large-scale piecing, mainly in the form of strips. The translucent white stripes ‘overlay’ on the coloured bar to create; in fact, because of their translucency, they are not at all white. Here are the Kona colours that I used:

  • Background: Kona Charcoal
  • Coloured bar: Kona Bellini
  • “White” stripes: Kona Pearl Pink, Kona Iron

This design, Everyone’s Got an X, is fitting for other life events, too — such as the arrival of a baby (everyone’s got an X chromosome), a tenth birthday or a tenth anniversary (Roman numeral for “ten”). The binding on the quilt adds serifs to the “X” on the quilt, an optional finishing touch.

This quilt will always be nicknamed “the divorce quilt” and it will always bring me back to this place of empathy and contemplation.

Everyone’s Got an X appeared as a pattern in the 2018 Quilt Con Magazine by Modern Patchwork.

Flying Buttresses

American Patchwork and Quilting’s Challenge for QuiltCon 2018 was Flying Geese. The prompt asked participants to modernize a traditional flying geese block with any variation, and make it into a modern quilt using modern quilting elements. Finished quilts could be any size. That is a generously open challenge!

As artists, we often stare at blank canvases or design walls and think, “I want to create, but where do I start?” I love prompts like these that have a clear starting point, where a solution and a finished quilt are required (and a deadline is attached!).

For those of you wondering what “modernizing” could mean, here is a non-exhaustive list that the challenge suggested:
  • Using modern color palettes including high contrast and graphic areas
  • Improvisational piecing
  • Minimalism
  • Expansive negative space
  • Alternate grid work
  • Scale

To me, in the broadest sense, modern quilting allows you to break any and all of the rules you might associate with the craft. I used what could be considered a “modern colour palette” – a monochromatic neutral scheme in grayscale. For the challenge, I wanted to create flying geese without constructing any flying geese blocks. I have always been fascinated with origami and how two-dimensions can become three through folds. Pin tucks achieve this in fashion but, not being a garment sewist, I never had a reason to try them. When you pull pin tucks in a certain way, you can get triangles that look like a flying geese.

For months, I had it in my head to make flying geese this way and even did some test in June. But with the busyness of the following months, I didn’t have time to work on it. On Instagram , some of you saw bits of the quilt come together at the eleventh hour. I started it 10 days before the QuiltCon deadline. I hemmed and hawed about starting it so late in the game, but I decided to take the plunge. There were many pieces in 2017 that I made for clients, or out of obligation, or in servitude to a pattern design. But this one was just about exploring new ideas, trying out some new techniques, and developing myself as an artist.

I didn’t have time to take the exploration much further than a very regular rhythm of geese in a row, but the final design was about flying buttresses in Gothic cathedrals with referred to another fabric manipulation in quilting — cathedral windows. I looked at a lot of historic architectural drawings of cathedrals and the design of the Flying Buttresses quilt reflects that aesthetic.

I tried to keep the overall layout simple. This was my first attempt at quilt-as-you-go panels. I constructed a row of geese in a strip with batting and backing attached right away. Then using strips of darker fabrics, I joined the panels together. It was a bit messy, but I ventured forward anyway, being mindful of my time.

I’m happy to say that this 25” x 24” piece will hang in the Flying Geese Challenge category at QuiltCon 2018 in Pasadena.

A Hamilton Bundle for the Design Star Challenge

Round 3 of the Stash Fabrics Design Star Challenge is on, and I picked a relatively personal subject this time. Beth at Stash Fabrics gave us the prompt of “Man Quilt.” What immediately came to mind was plaid, navy, forest green, taupe and brown. Totally legitimate choices, but not my style. She went on to explain, “Curate a bundle for the man in your life – brother, father, husband.” I don’t get overly personal here at 3rd Story Workshop, but when the prompt asks you to think about a significant person in your life, it gets personal!

My husband is not one to have strong likes or dislikes. He’s not loud. He’s quiet and unassuming. But one thing that he is very passionate about is… Hamilton, An American Musical. He knows all of the words — all 20,520 of them. He has a Hamilton quote for every situation. He has listened to it every second he is in the car without the kids for the last two-and-a-half years (explicit lyrics!). We had the privilege of going to see it this past summer at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. It was a mind-blowing experience — as a friend described, “Exactly what art should be.” The costumes, the emotions, the innovation, the limits that were pushed in terms of casting, convention, staging and choreography… It was so much more than I could have imagined having listened to the soundtrack.

This bundle is inspired by the themes, songs and characters of the story. Some of the elements include writing with a quill and ink, New York City, graffiti, cobbletones, The Schuyler Sisters, battles, guns and ships, and It’s Quiet Uptown. I would make a quilt for him with these fabrics in a heartbeat.

Here’s the “set list” (L to R, top to bottom):

I really wanted to make the colour palette have personal significance as well. Our home is fairly neutral, above is a shot of our bedroom which was featured in The Coast’s 2017 Homes Halifax publication. Black, white, texture, wood. I searched for fabrics that could interpret the themes in a colour palette that would suit our home. The Stash Fabrics “Design Wall” tool is very useful in helping you visualize a bundle together, but weights them all equally in dimension. I would probably use the brighter colours in smaller quantities in proportion to the black and white.

My work is intentionally separate from most other parts of my life. Through this exercise, I was able to connect my quilting to my husband, who is outside this quilting world.

Colour Post: A Glossary of Colour, in Pincushions

I have been following Amanda Jean Nyberg of Crazy Mom Quilts for a little while now, and I have seen her produce pin cushions on a daily basis. What a great way to use up scraps. I was particularly enamoured with Day 8 of this current round of production and made one for myself. And then I thought it was SO cute — and I am not one to gush about cuteness. But this was REALLY cute. So I made seven more as tiny quick colour studies. (Remember SkinnyMalinkyQuilts’ Quilt Prints?)

This Colour Theory series came out at 3″ x 3.5” each. Using short 1″ stripes from a bag of solid scraps, each illustrates colour schemes of basic colour theory. I will post a tutorial for the pincushions in the next couple of weeks (here it is). But for now, I’d like to provide you with an illustrated glossary of terms that will help you articulate your thoughts and preferences around colour. A glossary illustrated with pincushions, that is. Why is it important to be able to articulate in words how and what you think about colour? Because it helps you make conscious design choices, whether you are selecting fabric for a quilt, putting together an outfit, or decorating a room. (Please note that this is not by no means exhaustive list of terms; it is meant to give you a start.)

First, let’s start with a CMY (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow) colour wheel. Sign up for the newsletter if you would like a printable PDF of the colour wheel.

HUE is the name of a colour, such as purple. A MONOCHROMATIC colour scheme uses one hue in various tints and shades, illustrated by the purple pincushion below.

INTENSITY or SATURATION is the purity of colour that determines its brightness or dullness. The pincushion below uses only WARM colours and is very SATURATED.

A TINT is a colour with the addition of white, such as baby blue. SHADE is colour with the addition of black, such as maroon. When you lighten or darken a colour with white or black, they become MUTED – the opposite of saturated. The colour scheme of the pincushion below is made up of COOL colours, and MUTED in tone.

An ANALOGOUS colour palette uses colours that are adjacent to each other on the colour wheel. The WARM colours in the pincushion to the right are ANALOGOUS. With the purple next to it, the whole composition of the photo also uses an ANALOGOUS colour scheme.


A NEUTRAL colour scheme is made up of white, black, and gray. Often neutral colours like white and gray have a temperature – warm or cool. The whites in the pincushion below are warm in temperature, with a slight it of yellow in them. This is another example of a MONOCHROMATIC colour scheme.

COMPLEMENTARY colours are directly across from each other on the colour wheel, such as blue and orange (below, top). SPLIT COMPLEMENTARY colours are indirectly across from each other on the colour wheel, such as the green/pink/orange pincushion at the bottom of the photo.

TRIADIC colour schemes loosely form a equilateral triangle when you connect them in a colour wheel, such as the three primary colours (pincushion to the left, below) or three secondary colours. A QUADRATIC colour schemes forms a rectangle or square, as in the purple, blue, yellow and orange pincushion.

There are multitude of words and ways to talk about colour, and I could go on for a long time about the relationships and proportions of colour as well, but I’ll save that for another day. I think I will have to give names to these very cute pincushions.

Tutorial: Improv Birch Trees

I was asked to make a quilt for a woodland nursery. Animals are not yet in my design wheelhouse so I still have to work out that part, but I was delighted that to have the opportunity to test a tree technique that was in my head. Birch trees are linear, black and white, irregular but wieldy enough — I can handle that! There are many ways to make birch trees as you can see by the examples on Pinterest (scroll to the bottom of the post), but this tutorial shows you my approach.

If you’ve been following my blog, you will know that I prefer to test new ideas and techniques on small projects such as mini quilts, pillows, and trivets. The project below is a 12” x 18” pillow cover featuring Elizabeth Hartman’s Fancy Fox.

This is a somewhat improvisational technique, so that means that variation adds interest. All measurements are given as guidelines; allow yourself to approximate. No cuts have to be straight, no widths have the  same, no lines have to be parallel. More variation results in a more realistic birch forest.

3rd Story Workshop’s Improv Birch Trees
Yields at least 4 trees, roughly 1.5” x 15”, finished
with leftovers for future birch tree projects.
A 1/4” seam is assumed, unless otherwise noted.


Fabric Requirements:
1 white or off-white fat quarter
4 scrap strips of black and or dark grey, ranging from 1” to 2” wide x ~18” long
Scraps of white, off-white, or black/white stripes, about 1.5” x 3.5” (stripes should be parallel to the 1.5” edge)
Background fabric, width of your project x ~14” tall


  1. Fold your fat quarter in half along the 22” edge. (This step is not necessary, it’s just easier to cut and is what is pictured below.)
  2. Cut into strips between 2” and 3” wide. The strips don’t have to be very straight or parallel.

  1. Put your three skinniest strips aside.
  2. Pair 4 white strips with your black strips. Piece them together.
  3. Cut off any excess black.

  1. Slice off a bit of the black strips, leaving about 1/2” attached to the white. (Remember: Variation is best! More or less than 1/2” is good. Not quite parallel is good.)

  1. Piece your strips together.
  2. Add one additional white strip from the strips you put aside in Step 3. Voilà, a panel of fat white stripes and skinny black stripes.

  1. Cut 8 strips off your pieced panel, roughly 1.5: wide.

  1. Pair them up and turn one strip from each pair upside down.
  2. Take your remaining two white strips and cut them in half lengthwise.

  1. Insert them in between your stripy strips.
  2. Join each trio together with a rough 1/4” seam.

  1. You can make skinnier trees by omitting the white strip in the middle. My fifth tree, on the right below, shows you how this will look. (Another variation = good!)

  1. The resulting trees are about 12.5” tall, but I needed a little more height for my pillow. I sliced three trees into two; the cut line varies in position.
  2. This is where you will add the additional white, off-white or striped scraps. I used some hand-printed linen scraps from Keephouse that I picked up last weekend. For the two trees on the right, I added the extra fabric to the bottom of the tree.

  1. Trim the addition to match the width of the tree.

  1. Take your background fabric and slash them at various angles. For my project, the Fancy Fox is part of my “background” and is centred between two pairs of trees.

  1. Lay your birch trees in the slashes, and piece your verticals together in pairs, leaving a extra bit of length of tree at the top and bottom.

  1. Trim the extending tree bits  off the top and bottom to line them up with your background. This will help you align the next background piece without having to deal with funny angles.

  1. Finish piecing the remaining verticals.
  2. Baste, quilt, finish as desired.

 Variations for your forest:
  • For taller trees, stack and join the trees or add more scraps as per Step 15 and 16.
  • For some skinnier and different looking trees, omit middle white strip as per Step 14.
  • For quicker trees, only use a single ~2” strip from your pieced panel, as per Step 9. No additional piecing before you insert the tree into your background.

You’ll see in this photo that I had to add more background fabric to the left and right to make it wide enough for my pillow. These seams will almost disappear when quilted, especially because it’s linen. I can’t see Elizabeth Hartman’s Fancy Forest with anything other than free motion quilted wood grain, so that’s how this one will be quilted. I found instructions for wood grain FMQ in Free Motion Quilting with Angela WaltersCheck out more birch trees on this Pinterest board.