Sewing for Myself

One of today’s big buzz words is “self-care”. Self-care was why I started quilting in the first place! It’s so important — I think especially as a woman and a parent — to prioritize something or things that give us life and energy for the other areas of our lives where we need to show up fully. Since quilting became my job a year ago instead a form of self-care (a.k.a. hobby — let’s not diminish the word “hobby”!), I have been searching for other things that give me a boost. Enter my first garment making attempts. And a backpack, one year in the making.

Range Backpack. Pattern by Noodlehead.

We get a lot of joy out of making things for others, don’t we? So this category of sewing, when we sew something for ourselves is often called “selfish sewing” — a term that I could take or leave. Self-care can seem “selfish” but it’s not, right? A reminder that it feeds the other areas of our lives!

Inari Tee. Pattern by Named Clothing.

First up, the Inari Tee. I bought this pattern at the workroom in Toronto. It takes very little yardage and isn’t fitted, so I thought it was a forgiving first garment to make for myself. If it didn’t turn out, I would have wasted too much fabric or time. I loved the cropped length of the tee – something I didn’t already have in my closet and I thought it would look great over a high-waisted skirt or a fitted jersey dress (both of which were already in my closet). I found the perfect fabric in Jen Hewett’s Imaginary Landscapes line for Cotton + Steel.

Farrow Dress. Pattern by Grainline Studio. Fabric: Yarn-dyed Essex Linen in Lingerie

Secondly, I’ve always wanted to make Grainline Studio’s Farrow Dress pattern. For a couple of years now, I’ve thought, “If I were to make a garment for myself someday, it would be a Farrow Dress!” (see all the #farrowdress goodness here!) It was ‘someday’ until I was at Patch Halifax working on my Inari tee and a fabric delivery arrived. And this Yarn-dyed Essex Linen in “Lingerie” arrived. It was perfect. Right then and there, I bought the fabric and the pattern.

And lastly, my Range Backpack (pattern design by Noodlehead) that I started a year ago! Leather straps and brass hardware from Tandy Leather, with a special zipper pull that I replaced myself (which may seem easy peasy to you who do it all the time but it was a little heart-stopping) were the perfect accent for this black and gold Rifle Paper Co. canvas. The Wonderland collection is fabulous; I love how this particular print is a loose map of all the places in the story of Alice in Wonderland.

I did want to add a layer of water-resistance to the canvas, so I waxed it myself! You can see how I did that over on my Instagram story highlights.

As you can see, blush pink, gold and black – my kind of neutrals. I’m so glad that these items speak to my style more than any store-bought items could. That’s part of the reason we make, right?

In Search of Botanical

If you ask anybody who knows me even a little bit, they’ll tell you, “Andrea doesn’t do floral.” I don’t wear flowers. I don’t plant or grow flowers because they always die on me. I don’t have any floral prints in any of my home decor. I don’t draw flowers unless I can’t think of anything to draw. But when you put a challenge in front of me, my response will usually be, “Challenge Accepted.”

This quilt is titled In Search of Botanical and marks the beginning of my quest to find my own version of floral. It’s my entry into QuiltCon 2019’s Two-Color Quilt Challenge. It hasn’t been accepted yet, but whether or not that happens is irrelevant to the work itself!

So back to flowers: Don’t get me wrong, I like flowers. Like a bouquet of flowers. And I appreciate flowers — I see their beauty and their appeal. But I don’t often find floral prints that really feel like “me.” There are artists that do work that really appeals to me — Anna Bond of Rifle Paper Co., Leah Duncan, Brie Harrison and Arounna Khounnoraj of Bookhou. Many other artists can also be found in Uppercase’s Encyclopedia of Inspiration “Botanica”. And so I set out to find my own style.

Many people say that copying is a form of flattery. Others consider it an infringement of copyright. To me, it’s a way of learning. From a cultural perspective, I’ve had a glimpse at how a Chinese art teacher approaches learning versus how we learn art in a Canadian public school. (Disclaimer: Times have changed, so I’m sure that both have evolved substantially since my experience.) A Western mindset prizes freedom of expression and creativity so a class’ works will look very different across the board. A Chinese approach focuses on technique first then expression later so a class might have works that look very similar to start. I tend towards the latter in my own practice — give me the tools to express myself so that when I have something to say, I can say it accurately and eloquently.

So I started with these inspirational artists and looked at motifs that I liked. I drew them to figure out if I could “make them mine.” As I went along, I continued to layer inspiration and constraints that influenced the design:

  • QuiltCon’s Two-Color Quilt Challenge: Prints may be used as long as they consist of ONLY two colors. Thread color and binding needs to match the two colors in the quilt. Backing can be any color. The deadline for submissions is November 30, 2018. 
  • I was also inspired by an article on gilded artwork and illuminated manuscripts in Uppercase Magazine Issue #38 and went in search of gold metallic fabric and finally found some at The Quilted Castle. It’s from a holiday collection by Windham Fabrics from a few years back.
  • I had a couple of Riley Blake fat quarters in my studio with white and gold metallic and put them into the mix.
  • Learning a new skill. I wanted to try my hand at needle-turn applique since Carolyn Friedlander/Leah Duncan’s Wildabon quilt was a large influence.

A test block based on Suzy Quilt’s Aria quilt pattern.

Let’s talk timeline. (Laughs out loud).

  • July: I was inspired and got my fabrics.
  • August: I tried my hand at needle-turn appliqué and tested a block based on Suzy Quilts’ free pattern Aria.
  • Beginning of October: I whipped up the design in Adobe Illustrator in a couple of hours one evening in August or September.r
  • Mid-October: Started it  on a day trip to Lunenburg for the CCF conference. I got… 3 petals done.

  • November 18: Watched two CreativeBug classes by Carolyn Friedlander on how to do needle-turn applique.
  • November 21: Packed it up and travelled to Montreal/Ottawa for some teaching.
  • November 22-28: Plane rides, train rides, hotel rooms – needle-turning and hand stitching.
  • November 29: Basted, quilted, bound.
  • November 30: Photographed and submitted to QuiltCon.

I really like the medium contrast of these two colours. I like that they’re both “neutral”-“ish”. The gold fabric is basically a cotton completely covered in gold metallic ink. It’s heavy and stiff and feels almost like plastic. It was nice in that the edges didn’t fray as I was turning them under but it was a bit hard jabbing my needle in.

So my final verdict? I loved the process of making this quilt top, but I really dislike the quilting that I did with gold thread. Overall, I am so happy that I made this quilt on a weird timeline and will certainly be doing more needle-turn appliqué in the future. We’ll see what the jury has to say, I guess!

***UPDATE*** This quilt did not get accepted to QuiltCon 2019, but I am nevertheless glad that I ventured into the world of needle-turn appliqué.

The back of the quilt top before the basting stitches were removed.

Front of the quilt top before the basting stitches were removed.

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.

Have You Met…: Kelsey Boes of Lovely and Enough?

Inspiration is for amateurs—the rest of us just show up and get to work…[T]hings will grow out of the activity itself and…you will—through work—bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art idea.’ — Chuck Close

I am not sure how I came across Kelsey Boes’ work on Instagram, but when I first saw it, I gasped. Audibly. How could she cut up a quilt? And then, print over it?? Then quilt it again???  It was mind-boggling. Her process of deconstructing her quilts after they are seemingly “done” is bold, appalling, and intriguing; the results are astounding. Kelsey’s colour choices show a quiet sensitivity, but they are not timid; they are quietly bold. 

Kelsey is a Ph.D. candidate at North Carolina State University in Fiber and Polymer Sciences. Her quilting has little to do with her research in renewable additives for diesel fuel, but it offers the opportunity for energizing design breaks in the middle of paper writing and productive time in the lab as she ponders her next quilt direction.

What drew you into quilting and why do you love it?

I enjoy structured creative endeavors, so working with traditional quilting as a framework fuels my creativity. I relish the freedom to sometimes following conventional quilting canons and other times bend them. Throughout the process, I find that the methodical nature of quilting provides a peaceful place for my mind to rejuvenate.


What are three words that describe your design and/or quilting style?

Graphic-inspired minimalism

What lead you to overprint, deconstruct, and requilt your quilts?

An amalgamation of curiosity, creative hurdles, and suggestions have lead me to where my process is currently. Overprinting came as a suggestion from my graphic design professor after he watched me hand-print my own fabric designs. Deconstructing is the product of indecision. Two years after putting a teal printed quilt to rest for lack of a good binding, I decided it was time to move on. I cut it into nine pieces, rearranged it, added some quilting to tie it together, and now I plan to serge the edges. I think Chuck Close sums it up when he says, “Inspiration is for amateurs—the rest of us just show up and get to work…[T]hings will grow out of the activity itself and…you will—through work—bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art idea.’” My design decisions both great and less-than-inspired inform the work that I am doing now, and I love that kind of organic recursive process of experimenting, stepping back, and reformulating.

Find Kelsey on Instagram: @lovelyandenough

Find her shop on Etsy: Lovely and Enough

P.S. I am especially drawn to her Lenten Twelves project and the thought behind them: “In 2014, my mom challenged me to feast into creativity during the season of Lent instead of fasting from something. We both set out to create a 12″x12″ min quilt sketch each week to stretch our creative muscles and boundaries. These we named our ‘Lenten Twelves.'”