Tutorial: Aligning a Pieced Binding to Your Quilt Top

You’ve made your quilt top. You’ve made it through basting. You’ve got it quilted. It looks great. And now for the binding. I love it when every detail of a quilt points to a unified concept and the binding is the icing on the cake.

For Our Song, Your Reflection, the binding adds a visual interpretation of the music that goes with Meaghan Smith’s song. For Snow City, the binding really made the quilt. For Everyone’s Got an X, the binding adds serifs to the typographic X. These are bindings that not just protect the edges of the quilt, but extend the design idea right to the edge of the quilt. So how do you make the binding line up with the design of your quilt?

Pieced binding matches to the left and right, where the water meets the sky in Our Song, Your Reflection. Photo by Deborah Wong.

General RULES of THUMB

  • However many points have to match is how many separate binding strips you’ll have.
  • Join the binding strips where it “doesn’t matter”.

Here’s a mini-landscape that was bound with different binding on the land portion versus the sky.

I needed to match two key points on the quilt, one to the left and one to the right. So I started by making two separate strips of binding that were pieced.

When piecing binding, use a shorter stitch length to prevent your thread from showing. Press your seam open (I never press my seams open unless I’m piecing binding!). This will be give you a less bulky seam than if you press to one side.

Line up the raw edges with the edge of the quilt and aligning that matched point where the land meets the sky. Pin.

Starting in the sky area, attach the binding with a 1/4″ seam allowance. Turn the corner like you normally would. Stop part way along the bottom edge and backstitch.

Next, you will be attaching the binding in the other direction, but “blindly” — with the binding beneath the quilt.

Turn the corner as you normally would.

Remove the quilt from your machine. Flip to the right side of the quilt and prep and fold your corner. Pin.

Attach the binding, again with the wrong side of the quilt facing up and the binding underneath. After a few inches, stop and backstitch. Remove the quilt from your machine.

Repeat with the other strip of binding

Now you can join the same colour strips with a 45-degree seam, just as you would when finishing a “normal” quilt.

Finish by hand or by machine. Voilà! Don’t forget to admire your handiwork!

Prairie Storm + Female Artists

Side of the highway, on our way to Regina to see a Saskatchewan Roughriders football game.

I married into a family of Saskatchawanians. I had no connections or interest in the prairies prior to my relationship with my now-husband. This summer we had the chance to spend some time at the family cottage two hours north of Saskatoon, as we celebrated the Jackson matriarch’s 90th birthday. I had the chance to make a quilt for her based on a 16” x 16” sketch from the landscape charrette series that I created last spring.

16″ x 16″ mini quilt, April 2017 – Quilt Charrette series.

A few summers ago, my mother-in-law experienced an intense storm that hit as she drove by herself on a very late night in rural Saskatchewan. Using one of my favourite colour combinations, I imagined from her description — gold improvised fields and very regularly spaced rain, quilted with metallic gold thread.

Side of the highway near Warman, SK

There were a couple of stops along the side of the highway to photograph the prairie-inspired quilt, which measured 50” x 72”. The intensely yellow canola fields were a regular siting along our long drives around the province. This time I used Glide Thread in Fool’s Gold for the quilting. I wasn’t sure how regular metallic thread would fare in my Juki TL-2010Q so I was happy to try this 100% polyester thread with a sheen. I didn’t get a chance to photograph the quilt label unfortunately, but I suspect I will get to see the quilt again.

We made time to escape for a day trip to the city of Saskatoon, which has its own cultural vibe going on. In the fall of 2017, the new Remai Modern opened up, an art gallery dedicated to contemporary art. The building was designed by KPMB with lead design architect Bruce Kuwabara. It is located at the junction of a bridge crossing the South Saskatchewan River, the river itself, and multiple recreational bikepaths.

Remai Modern, designed by KPMB Architects. Image via remaimodern.org.

I really enjoyed our time there without our kids to take in the artwork. Of special note, two installations in the public areas of the museum. Lucky Charms by Pae White makes use of neon “doodles” (terminology mine) in colours of light used in “happy lamps”. These wavelengths of light are used to help the symptoms of depression caused by seasonal affective disorder. On our visit to Saskatchewan shortly after the summer solstice, we experienced daylight until past 10 pm. That means that the opposite season of cold dry winters have very limited daylight hours. This installation touches on the effects of daylight, living at such a northern latitude.

Lucky Charms by Pae White

The second piece was Sol LeWitt Upside Down by Haegue Yang. These very rational looking boxes are a re-interpretation of his modular Structures but hung upside down. Each cube of the framework is enclosed with a surprising material – very mundane Venetian blinds. I love these very rational boxes against the geometric linear lights suspended above them. The Venetian blinds capture both the artificial lighting above it as well as the natural light coming through the atrium space that connects all levels of the museum.

On a non-aesthetic level, what strikes me about these two installations is that they are works by female artists prominently displayed in public spaces. Women’s roles in the public realm has evolved greatly in the last 100 years and I hope that this artistic representation continues to grow. Especially as a Asian female artist, Yang’s artwork as the first encounter in a museum of such importance really encourages me. Asian females are often perceived as the most reticent, passive, and submissive in European and North American cultures. Although none of the females in my family fit this profile — we are a particularly assertive and vocal bunch! — I have certainly been subject to this stereotype. I have begun to make a case for my role as an female Asian artist in a dominantly white art form, as well as for domestic arts to have a place in the public realm. This is a relatively new dimension to what I think about in my artistic practice, and I’m excited to see how it informs the way I work.

The lobby of the Remai Modern.

The vast Canadian prairie landscape is one that I really took notice of this trip and I’m sure we’ll be back again in the next few years for another Saskatchewan adventure.

Photo by Bruce Jackson

Icebergs and Narwhals

I had the opportunity to develop another pattern from a commission (first one was the Sleepy Fox pattern) and this time, I went underwater. When my son’s preschool teacher approached me about making a wall hanging for the classroom, I had in mind to try this business model again.

The teacher had travelled up north to Nunavut in recent years and teaches a unit on the Arctic in the winter months. I had also spotted a small print of a Lawren Harris painting in her classroom. He was a member of the famous Group of Seven, who all had their own takes on Canadian landscapes. His icebergs are powerful and peaceful at the same time.

Mountain Forms, an iconic 1926 Rocky Mountain canvas by Group of Seven founder Lawren Harris (Heffel Fine Art Auction House)

Using a similar improvisational technique to the series of pin cushions I did last summer, I constructed the icebergs with loose overall dimensions in mind. A gradation of white/baby blue/pale aqua formed the icebergs above water and deeper blues formed the underwater portions. I elongated the darker ones because most of the mass of icebergs resides beneath the surface. (Lessons learned from the Titanic, right? “Iceberg AHEAD!”)

I developed the narwhal patterns simultaneously and had my faithful testers working on the narwhal blocks while I designed the baby quilt. Narwhals usually congregate in groups, so I made one of each of the Dancing Narwhal patterns. And for the third, I made a tuskless version to represent a female and used a mirror image of the pattern simply by printing it out flipped. Most printers have the ability to do this, if you can find the function in your print settings.

Instead of making the full 16″ x 16″ blocks, I omitted the extra background rectangles for the two male narwhals, and finagled a funny Y-seam to insert the female into the group. It did pucker a bit but nothing that a little quilting over couldn’t fix.

SInce the spring, I have been working on free-motion quilting cloud motifs (sketches here and another experiment here). I quilted them over the icebergs and sky in a pale grey thread.

The underwater currents went edge-to-edge and I found a rhythm of spirals and echoing after a few rows. The 80-20 (80% cotton, 20% polyester) batting I used is loftier (“puffier”) than a 100% cotton. In combination with the lighter weight shot cotton that I used for the water, it added so much extra texture to the water.

You can find the Dancing Narwhal patterns here; each comes with a tuskless option, making them female narwhals or like their cousin, the beluga. Check out some other versions of the patterns on Instagram.

English Paper Piecing & Watercolour on Fabric

I took a intro English Paper Piecing (EPP) workshop with Jenn of Quarter Inch from the Edge earlier this summer and found it to be a very satisfying process. Since then, I pondered what project would be good to explore EPP. I dabbled in fussy cutting, more linear rather than radial arrangements, solid colours — but nothing felt quite “me” untiI I listened to an interview with Ashley Nickels on the Crafty Planner podcast. I have been since following her Instagram feed closely and got a flash of inspiration late one night, a few days before my family vacation to California. I “needed” a travel project (right?), so I embarked to English paper piece some watercolour fabric.

First EPP attempt. I thought that the painted fabric would be a good background for it, but the intensity of the solids was too much for the airy watercolours.

Before I started working with fabric, watercolour was my favourite medium. It is quick and portable. The best part of it is the edge – where the colour meets the toothy, water-absorbent, weighty watercolour paper. That’s where some serious magic happens. As I was gawking at Ashley’s watercolour quilts that fateful night, I went down some Instagram rabbit hole and stumbled upon an image of some watercoloured paper hexagons featuring this very beautiful edge phenomenon. When I woke up the next day, I could not for the life of me find that image again. I searched for days and came up with nothing. Maybe it was a dream.

Ashley’s original technique uses fabric dyes to achieve vibrant and intense colours (check out her Creativebug class). I prefer low-stakes experiments when I’m starting out, so not spending a lot of money on paint and fabric helped me jump right into this process rather than having to figure out “proper” or best way to do things. I found this tutorial by Cami Graham of Tidbits and loosely followed it. I used some very old watercolour tube paints and Martha Stewart fabric medium, which turns any paint into fabric paint. For fabric, I used an old white pillowcase that was very much past its prime.

The painting process was quick and dirty.  I modified Cami’s process a bit to make sure that I got those edges that I seeking. It took me very little time, maybe half an hour or so. After air-drying the fabric, I machine-washed and dried it. It ended up losing some colour, but still retained those important edges.

I randomly cut the fabric into squares, then prepared the hexies for my very long three-leg journey from the East Coast of Canada to SoCal. I brought baby nail clippers to cut thread in place of scissors, in hopes that security would not confiscate them at the airport (and they didn’t!). After entertaining my boys for a bit of first plane ride, I pulled out the hexies. Some had the “edge” and some were all painted. I played with them like a puzzle, trying to line up the edge from hexagon to hexagon. And then…A coastline appeared. That’s what I was looking for; I just didn’t know it.

See the tiny islands in the sea to the left?

Inspiration comes from lots of places. This time it came from other artists, rabbit holes, and playing around. What will become of this piece? I have no idea. Will it become a series? I would like that. Will I return to it? I hope so. But for now, it will have to sit on the backburner.

Free Motion Quilting Clouds and “The Quilter’s Path” with Christa Watson

Christa Watson is a quilter, teacher and designer based in Las Vegas, NV. I took her Craftsy class, “The Quilter’s Path”, having only ever taken a 5-hour quilting workshop with Linda Coolen Smith of our local modern quilt guild. I needed lots of help understanding the limits and possibilities of walking foot and free motion quilting, and Christa’s class was a great place to start.

The class is divided into 6 lessons, between 18 and 26 minutes each. The class comes with downloadable resources, including a printable supply list and the Pinwheels Quilt pattern, pictured above (40″ x 56″). The class starts with walking foot designs using basic grids then moves to more complicated designs such as a walking foot spiral. Christa then moves into free motion designs such as spirals and meanders, and then combines the FMQ with walking foot designs.

It’s fun to watch her teach and everything seems to make perfect sense. Two things that I especially appreciate about Christa’s class: 1) The way she uses test block to practise and try out a design, and 2) The way she shows you how to apply the design to a larger quilt. Testing is an approach that I like to use in my own work, but of late, have forgotten about it and have suffered the consequences! Another thing to do before you delve into quilting a larger piece is to plan your path first. I am fine with quilting small blocks but have little experience with manoeuvring larger quilts. Christa shows you how to plan your quilting path to first anchor your quilt and then fill in with more density and detail. This is an error I have made recently with my Color Flocks quilt; I started way too dense and now I have to persevere through to the very end of a density marathon to finish this sample.

Christa also encourages you to sketch your quilting before you do it. This rote motor practice helps when it comes time to actually stitch with your machine.

My obsession with free motion clouds has been greatly helped by “The Quilter’s Path.” I took Christa’s “elongated swirls”, where you echo along the tail of a spiral motif, and doodled about 8 pages’ worth of cloud designs with the swirls as the starting point. It gave me lots of practice figuring out how to travel around the surface of the quilt. Paper is much less expensive than fabric and less of a time commitment, so “sketch twice, FMQ once,” or something of the sort!

Responsiveness is the marker of great service and a great teacher. I asked Christa a question via the Craftsy platform about how to approach the background and she responded within 24 hours of my post. I appreciated the quick turnaround and it makes me want to take another class! It is very apparent that Christa really wants you to succeed with your quilting and feel confident enough to progress to the next level.

For you readers, Christa is offering 50% off her class when you sign up via this link. The discount will show up when you add the class to your cart; it expires October 5, 2017. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Plan the overall quilting design, sketch the quilting design, then quilt away!


Have You Met… Louisa Glenn?

Louisa Glenn (@gracelouisagee) is a painter from Nashville, Tennessee. Her work is mesmerizing, with striking colours and always makes me think, “I should make a quilt like that!” (And someone did.) In this interview, Louisa reveals that a trip to the library led her down a new creative path, how she approaches colour, and how she interprets mood and light through her work.

What lead to you to paint quilts rather than make them? 

I’ve always been a painter – it pulled me in early, it’s woven into the innermost part of me and informs how I see the world. When I moved back to Tennessee almost four years ago, one of my top priorities was reconnecting with my creative self that I had largely kept quiet, and often ignored outright. That self needed lots of nurturing, and I found myself combing through the stacks at the Nashville public library looking for inspiration, a jumping off point. I made my way to the textiles section, because who doesn’t love gazing at rich brocades? Or imagining the lightness of linens? And there, nestled immediately adjacent, were the quilting books. I knew nothing about the quilting world, had no inkling of its depth and vibrancy. I honestly think I started out painting quilt patterns because I was looking for a framework and craved structure – and they certainly delivered both in spades. When I started painting those first repeating patterns, I discovered a meditative space that I needed. I found a place where I didn’t overthink my work because everything fit together and flowed so perfectly.

I have nothing against the actual physical act of quilting, or sewing for that matter – the opposite! I took sewing lessons at a local fabric shop when I was in elementary school, and was very proud of my matching floral shorts and tote bag. But quilting didn’t run in my family, and so my early exposure was limited. I tried my hand at sewing again recently, and I will be the first to admit that I’m not awesome at keeping my seams straight. I would very much like to learn, though – what a fantastic next step that would be!

What are three words that describe your artistic style?

Pieced, adventurous, vibrant

How do you approach colour? Your work has a bold and clear range of palettes, it seems. How did you arrive at those colour choices?

My approach to colour over the past few years has been a healthy combination of “gangbusters” and “anything goes”. I’ve been thriving on high contrast. I tend to get hung up on a colour for a while, use it as the central thread through my work, and flirt with different supporting palettes. For example, it might be a little obvious that I have a deep and abiding love for fluorescent red. It’s just so delicious that I can’t help myself. In some places I’ll ground that red with straight Payne’s grey, which is pretty dark – I use it instead of black. But then on another edge I’ll place that same red next to a light neutral grey, or an aqua, or a sky blue. Those combinations are so shout-y and intense that my eyes can’t resolve the contrast, and a white line will appear in between – I guess in an attempt to soften it? In other pieces I’ve put that same red up against pinks and purples, and it sings rather than yells. My palettes have really centered on pinks/reds and blues/aquas/greys, I think because right now I know them best, I understand how they work. I’m not “good” at purple yet, and I don’t feel super confident about green, but I’m working on it.

I feel like I’m ready to explore gentler, more nuanced compositions. By that, I mean that I’m finding myself drawn to more limited palettes. I’m not totally ready to forsake neons or my penchant for color blocking, but I’m also looking at embroidery and stitching, thinking about they might be layered for a softer look. I desperately want to learn how to paint white, like lots of different shades. I can’t promise that I’ll be satisfied, that I won’t cut back into a mostly white work with one or two outlying neon pieces. I’m excited to experiment more! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the most gratifying thing is being able to see, even in two years, how much my work has shifted and evolved. I’m trying not to push it too hard, but I’m eager for a fresh chapter.

The titles of your paintings refer to landscapes and/or times of day. What inspires you about these subjects and how do you interpret them?

I will never cease to be surprised and delighted by the pockets of beauty I stumble across every day. I know it sounds kind of cliché. But there’s a time of morning when the sunlight filters in and reflects off a mirrored cabinet in my apartment, and all of a sudden there’s a beautiful grid of light lines cast on my wall. I’m entranced by the change in air when it’s about to rain, how everything shifts, smells different, gets quieter. When I’m painting a landscape or a time of day, I ask myself how that time feels, what makes it remarkable, what the sky looks like, what color the light is, where the blocks of highlight and shade are. I really enjoy the challenge of capturing vibrations, trying to boil movement and vitality down to essential lines and shapes. One of my favorites so far is a piece from last summer called High Noon, and it was about the brightness of the sun reflecting off of a car. I recently painted the Yorkshire downs for a friend’s play about the Bronte siblings, and it was delicious when I finally struck a balance between tranquil afternoon and dark moodiness.

You know, this is the direction that I’m moving in with my work overall. Like I mentioned, when I was just starting to get back into painting and dedicate significant time to my practice, I really needed some structure. I thought about each piece in terms of specific quilt patterns, and it was fairly obvious which one I had chosen to reference. That exercise helped me rediscover my artistic voice. Now that I know more about who I am as an artist, I have the freedom and ability to use those fundamental elements to explain other things, and I’m really excited about it! I have a show in process that’s about the Odyssey, and the prospect of painting oceans, or the smoke from burnt offerings, or gods and goddesses visiting that band of travelers in disguise is thrilling. The feeling of the journey, and finally arriving home.

Explore more of Louisa’s work: Louisa Glenn

Find her on Instagram:  @gracelouisagee

Quilt Charrette, No. 1

When I was in architecture school eons ago, I participated in the Canadian Centre for Architecture’s annual student “Charrette” competition. It was a weekend-long intensive project that called for little sleep and fun times with my comrades. My team never won.

The term “charrette” comes from the word for cart in French. According to Wikipedia, “its use in the sense of design and planning arose in the 19th century at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where it was not unusual at the end of a term for teams of student architects to work right up until a deadline, when a charrette would be wheeled among them to collect up their scale models and other work for review. Their continued working furiously to apply the finishing touches came to be referred to as working en charrette, ‘in the cart.’” I remember that feeling of intensity and  pressure – clock ticking, adrenaline rushing.

Last weekend, I spent a day at White Point Beach Resort in Queens County, Nova Scotia with my favourite quilty people of the Maritime Modern Quilt Guild. I packed some “work” — commissioned work and projects for my upcoming Halifax Crafters Spring Market, and then I packed some scraps for a to-be-determined “fast and fun” project when I got bored with the obligatory list. I would give myself an hour or an hour-and-a-half to deal with the bag of scraps: a quilt charrette. This time though, my charrette was self-imposed and the stakes were however high I wanted to make them.

The scrappy strips are cuts from squaring up fabric after I prewash it. They live in a plastic grocery bag in a bottom drawer; I’ve photographed them here in a lovely acrylic box to spare you the reality. There are many colours in that bag, so I picked an assortment of teals and off-whites, many of which show up in my Emerald Gemology pillow and wall hanging. I also brought along a small chunk of off-white.

My friend Jeannette of Seam Work is running a charity project this year to furnish each of the 72 residents’ rooms at Glasgow Hall Long-Term Care Facility with a handmade pillow. At best, this would be an item I could replicate and attempt to sell at a craft market or in my shop; at worst, a lovely resident at Glasgow Hall would have some colour and cheer in their room. The parameters for my quick project were now set:

  • Limited colour palette (teals, off-white)
  • 16” x 16” pillow cover
  • Gender neutral, to suit any female or male resident of the care facility
  • Time limit: 1.5 hours

I improv-pieced the strips together as fast as possible, cutting strips and further dividing them if I found the scale to be too big for the overall effect. Once I developed a composition wide enough to accommodate the pillow size, I joined it up with the chunk of off-white. Voilà, a landscape. I saw fields; most of my Maritime-inclined peers saw waves.

The sky called for some cloudy treatment, so I sketched in my notebook a free-motion quilting pattern, which I had to redraw onto the fabric with a Frixion pen because I couldn’t pull it off otherwise. I can’t say I pulled it off well in the end, but they are recognizable as clouds and I will continue to practise this pattern. I hope it will become my next favourite FMQ design to use, after wood grain.

Anyway, I liked the results of this charrette so much that I made another one. It turns out that this project might open doors in my work, maybe to a new audience — stretching my process, but still in my voice.