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Monday, March 31, 2014

Bias, Material Differential, and Apophenia: Why Is This Blog Post Titled Like a Thesis?

….being an examination of the attempt to make a quilt beyond my skill level, a very frustrating process indeed.

So my sister, Lulu Fishpaw Reflux, had a birthday a couple days back, and though I have been manically trying to complete her quilt since, oh, early February, it was not done on time.  Why, you say? Well, I reply, because I got it into my head that Lulu's decor could use a nice soothing repetitive geometric pattern and I thought I'd found just the pattern for her - though I think I may have been confused, because she has said that her preferred decor would look like "a very expensive private sanitarium" but I believe instead I have made her something that might drive her screaming to just such a place, if she gazes upon it for too long.  But lo! You can see for yourself, IF YOU DARE:
You are getting verrry sleepy

This here pattern is called Fractured Flowers, by Happy Stash Quilts, which looked
challenging in an exciting, Vincit Qui Se Vincit! kind of way, but ended up being challenging in a sweet-baby-cheezus-why-is-the-world-so-mean-to-me?-weeping-in-fetal-position-under-a-chair kind of way.  While the pattern itself was clearly explained and well illustrated, it involved quite a lot of 45-degree-angle bias cuts, which I *thought* I had managed quite nicely in my Rainy Day Picnic Quilt with all those triangles.  Bah! I foolishly scoffed.  I shall fear no bias!  Rookie mistake. (Also notice the bottom right corner, which is solid because I couldn't be arsed to do it correctly.)

Turns out that as soon as you make a half-square triangle into an actual square again, you really take out a lot of the stretch that bias cuts cause….but this FF quilt involves skinny little strips of bias cut NIGHTMARE, which make the "fractured" part of the pattern, just floating around unmoored, stretching all out of true and making seam matching damn near impossible.  This was not helped in the least by the fact that one of these fabrics is a Kaufman Dark Olive solid quilting weight fabric, and the other a lighter-weight, loosey-goosey woven light blue chambray that I triumphantly bought a huge batch of for cheap at Crazy Cheap Fabric Store (my term, not theirs) in Pilsen. (Seriously, this place is a goldmine. If you're in Chicago, GO THERE.)  So not only was I stretching my fabric on the bias, but the two fabrics I used were stretching at different rates.  Aaaaand there miiiight have been a little issue wherein I cut some of my bias cut strips too wide to begin with….but I digress.

Also, there was a metric frack ton of ironing these long strip-pieced sections, and naturally the heavier olive wanted to push the seam out to the lighter chambray, when I was trying to make it do the exact opposite.  Many burnt fingertips ensued as I tried to push the errant seams into their proper places while ambidextrously wielding my new iron upon precisely the same square inch of fabric.   Because I'm a genius like that.  Though as it happens, this badass green German iron of LOVE is what Lulu gave me for Christmas last year (indirectly, via a return), so it seems fitting that I am using it to Give Something Back to her.  Every time I hit the steam I think of you, Lulu!  Which, for this sucker, was a LOT.

Whole lotta bias goin' on

Editing quarter-panels into some kind of order, all SEEMS under control. It is not.
From the back:  reams of seams.
But Astrid, you may be thinking, don't be so hard on yourself!  That quilt looks perfectly fine from where I'm sitting.  To which I say thank you, friend, you are kind.  But that's because from where you're sitting you can't see this….
Behold! this puckery awkwardness and non-alternating-colored "fracture".
or this…..
Behold! the innermost white "petal", which perhaps qualifies as abstract art.
or this bit of wizardry right here:
Behold! the Solid Corner of Piece-Underestimation-Stripe-Sewing-Fatigue
Or the fact that now that the whole top is together, all of these broken-dish or bow-tie units, whatever ya wanna call em, which were supposed to be formed by the top of the "fractures" are wonky at best, and most are largely theoretical.
This approximates what they were all supposed to look like.

This was a lot closer to reality….

…and much more frequent.
Apropos of nothing, I got to wondering, while churning out wonky, hinky piece after wonky, hinky piece, whether the whole of the quilt would even still evince the same "Fractured Flower" illusion that the perfect sample picture did, or if I was just pissing into the wind….and, all logic to the contrary, it actually pretty much does look like the picture (from afar). Curious, I went checking around: why are you seeing a pattern that, owing to the vagaries of my sewing "skills", is mostly a polite fiction?  That's where the apophenia of the post title came in, and that is also what I've named this quilt - because your brain has a general idea of what should be happening here, and it just conveniently colors in the blanks for you. Or in the much more poetical phrasing of Rabih Alameddine,  "The eye always fills in the imperfections."  So true, Rabih: so true.  Unless you're looking at yourself.

On the other hand, Lulu is an engineer, and she is precise in a sphincter-clenching way that I sometimes have nightmares about.  I helped her start a deck re-build once, and I mostly carried bags of Quik-rete and napped in the grass while she pondered angles and force and pressure-per-square-inch and whatnot.  Here is an example of a less than 8th of an inch overhang that drove her absolutely crazy until she sanded off the offending protrusion in order to correct this and make the beam sit completely flush to its L-post.  Honestly.  Less than 8th of an inch.
The obvious precursor to total structural failure.
So perhaps my anxiety in relation to the quality this particular quilty gift becomes more clear when considering the intended recipient, who is probably already going to find the off-center backing problematic enough to make her palms itch, as well as the one corner  on the front that I just used solid olive for, since I had managed to not make enough parts to do it correctly and, guys, I was too TIRED to go back and strip piece just for that corner.

"Why couldn't you have just put that solid stripe in the exact mathematical center?"

Fortunately for me, if there's one thing Lulu is, it's willing to give her youngest sib the benefit of the doubt.  Many, many, MANY a time she has tolerated my foibles and even gladly supported them, like that time I decided to tear a giant hole in, and replaster, her dining room wall when she was in the middle of studying for grad school finals.  Or that time I lived at her house when I was homeless. Or that other time I lived at her house when I was homeless.  Or that time I borrowed her car and drove to Atlanta despite having no drivers license.  Or that time we gave each other tattoos for our birthdays that year.  Or those care packages she used to send me to college which had kiwis, Pepsi, Pixie-Stix, and mozzarella cheese with pizza sauce to dip it in. Or that time she helped me replace the radiator in my Civic.  Or that time she literally saved my life when I was reluctant to go to the hospital even though my appendix had exploded.  So even if this quilt does give her migraines, it is likely she won't tell me, because that's just the kind of stand-up person she is.

I have yet to quilt this or put the binding on it, but I already broke the news to her that I am Making Something That Isn't Done Yet, and she never reads Facebook where I post about my blog posts anyway, and I very much doubt she will stumble upon this before I get it done, so…. here it is, partly done.  And,  limping to a conclusion: I had pondered a binding for some time before I chose ORANGE.  Because what goes better with olive and light blue than orange?  Nothing does.  Plus, you know, olive and blue and orange - they're split complementary (though I didn't know that at the time I picked it, but probably should have.) And there was just enough orange on the back, as an accent in that middle green fabric, and in the square of orange stripes at the left, to bring it all together.  AT LONG, LONG LAST.

(Side-note: I do love the backing fabrics, in particular the top fabric pictured here, which is from the Morris Apprentice (as in William Morris) and the whole series is divine and gives me fits of fabricky pleasure.  The darker olive with the orangey-peach flowers is Rhapsodia "Boho Stitches" by Art Gallery, which I also adore.)
So good I don't even mind that they aren't sewn straight.

So before too long this will be packaged up and shipped off to Lulu in NOLA (again: a place where quilts are hardly ever required, though Lulu is notoriously cold-blooded and may use it all summer for all I know) with my fondest wishes that it does not drive her crazy with its hypnotic powers or its lack of symmetry….and I promise the next one I make her will be all squares and straight edges.  And a very very happy birthday to you, big sis! even if late, off-center, and full of delusions.


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