Love Letters to Friends, As Well As Very Important Musings on Earth Shattering Matters:
Thread Count, Powerlifts, Quilting, Karaoke, Lemon Cookies, and Graphomania

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Team Autumn, Handmade Wiggles, and Drawing Outside the Lines

…being a dipping of the toe into machine quilting in the negative space, with promising results, but a full-on belly-flop into the limpid pool of nostalgia.

In the halcyon days of yore, after college, and after the diaspora of many friends out of state but before everyone was gone, and before kids, and usually between September and November, there was Team Autumn.

Ringleader Bean totes a mighty harvest from The Orchard.
Her minions are not so successful in the hunt.  Astrid, Chadly, and Señor "The Legend of Sleepy" Fitzgerald. 
This quartet of intrepid autumneers claimed the season for our very own
- because everything about fall is better than any other time, from the crispy, first-days-back-on-campus snap in the air, to the bluest blue midwestern sky and fiery orange leaves that echoed the color scheme of our alma mater.   Plus, Bean's birthday is right before Halloween, which marks both the beginning of the holiday season and the time she can start talking about her Thanksgiving menu without sounding like a crazy person.  Team Autumn made the best of the best season:  by building a haunted bathroom for Bean's 30th birthday party, dressing as "Clue" for Halloween, making an annual pilgrimage to The Orchard for pumpkin-carving contest pumpkins (and copious apple donuts, and cider, and fried broccoli, with unfortunate results), wearing candy corns on our incisors, making spooky playlists, having a craft table at a party for the purpose of creating hand-tracing turkeys, rounding up enough people to play touch football in the park and refresh ourselves afterwards with stupid good macaroni and cheese, discussing whether, if Team Autumn were a giant Japanese robot comprised of the four of us, we would be handicapped by not having a head, organizing Friend Thanksgiving, and the ever-popular "tell me your favorite memory about me" game that Bean liked to play from time to time.

Bean turns 30 at Casa de Chadly - we are assembled to read haikus about her, which she directed us to write.

Though we do not convene as regularly as we used to, Team Autumn lives on in the spirited leaf-jumping of Bean and Senor's two lively prodigy, in Bean's ever-expanding prep time for Thanksgiving dinner (should be starting any minute now), and in the ass-kicking fall season victories of Coach Chadly's  Fighting Narwhals of City High basketball team.  Team Autumn 4-eva!

I myself am incapacitated by summer, as I've mentioned, and always feel like I'm coming out of a coma every September.   But this year, the summer has been unseasonably, perhaps worryingly, cool and delightful, and so I'm managing to be more productive than would otherwise be possible.  I had planned to get Bean's quilt to her by her birthday, but good fortune and/or the ineffable effects of global warming has enabled me to get her her quilt now, so that she will have it handy when the last vegetables are stripped from her backyard garden, and the Japanese maple fires it up one last time, when the A/C is off for good - the first time, in other words, that she and Señor might genuinely need a wee blankie to toasty up their couch-sittin', TV-watchin' time.

When I asked Bean what she might be looking for in a blankie, she voiced a preference for reds and oranges and yellows, and picked out a few fabrics from my great-and-growing wall o' fabric to get me started.  She wanted warm colors, lots of negative space, and not too busy of a pattern.  And later, she also suggested I put together a book for her of my efforts on her behalf (later, she relented, saying a blog post would also work).

Fabric selections, a plan, and a prototype….awkwardly, the points go to the edges, with no seam allowance, so are destined to be sewn under.

Problem fixed in the second sample, with seam allowance allotted, so points remained intact.

Neither of us were sure how reds and oranges and yellows would work out together, but since my motto appears to be "when in doubt, follow the rainbow," I ended up placing them in bars of ROY G BIV (or, at least, ROY) color order, so that they look like they're sort of fading out……or like one side is lit up by the long slanted rays of a September afternoon; or like the waning phases of a deciduous tree in full autumnal glory; or like the gradient colors of a good crackling bonfire, around which you may or may not be passing a bottle of Wild Turkey.  Ahem. 

If 4 x 5 is 20, how come I made 21 blocks?  Quilters' math, is how.  

This quilt is just lap-sized, but I did want to add a border to make it a wee bit bigger, and set off the colors some, before I started fussing with the quilting.  Stupidly, I just motored on through that part without thinking it through or checking The Googles, because I ended up with these demented corners which are NOT RIGHT.  I did warn Bean when I gave it to her that it was a Learning Quilt for me, and that the closer she looked at it, the more she would realize how much learning had gone on.

There is a much easier way to do this, which I figured out directly after doing it incorrectly, of course.

For the back, I stayed simple with a nice soft shot-cotton orange (Bean's daughter and I share a love of soft bedding, so I knew I'd have to satisfy a picky critic) and a dobby yellow fabric that gave a pleasant scrunchy texture to the top, separated by a strip of one of Bean's fabric selections.  The binding was a very very tiny orange dot, because I am growing to really love a dotted binding.

Now, as for the quilting - I had originally plotted to do a million different things in the negative space in my big notebook o graph paper scribbles, some of which was well beyond my current capacity on a sewing machine.  In fact, it was pretty much beyond my capacity on graph paper, too, which should have been my first clue that I might have been overshooting a bit.  In any event, I thought I could make the crosses into medallions of sorts with a big circle around each one, and then fill in parts of the resulting negative-space design with various quilty background squiggles just like I see hundreds of examples of on Pinterest.  This required me to color outside the lines of the actual pattern and envision a pattern that wasn't actually there yet.  Hmmmm.

Fig. 1 - a general page of scribbles to practice with pen what I want to do with thread.  Pen is proving difficult enough.
Fig. 2 - testing a few different options for the negative space created by the crosses,  overwhelming myself completely.
Fig. 3 - Refining the negative space, trying to figure out what shapes fit into a diamond.

Needing a circular template big enough to surround the crosses, but not too big to run into the abutting crosses, I discovered inspiration from an unlikely source - a Sunday afternoon cooking spree.  This is apropos also, since Bean is a cook of some note, and I… not.  Suffice it to say this was a much more salubrious use of my cookware than me actually cooking with it would have been.
That's the lid to my 12 quart stockpot, and a chalk dispensing gadget.  Perfect! 

And now!  on to quilting those lines up.  Perhaps, I thought, I should try some more hand-quilting, because I do enjoy it so!  Er…..
The front side, where the thread kind of matched the fabric, was not exactly perfect, but eh, not bad…

….but jebus gorp, the backside looked demented., esp. with gray on orange, requiring me to rip these out and start over.
….then again, maybe not.

Once more, the problem with trying to practice on real quilts is that they are invariably going to someone else, and hence should not look too crappy if it can be avoided, which means that you are maybe stuck using all the skills you already have, instead of going out on a limb with skills you should be practicing.  I steeled myself to do some machine quilting, and spent the entire time spitting and cursing, and inventing ever more elaborate apologies to Bean for the workmanship (which I knew she would not require or accept) and eventually, I had my big circles and some echoing lines inside the negative space, courtesy of my machine.  But this was not free-motion quilting - the machine was still doing all the work of advancing the fabric and regulating the stitch length, and I was just muscling the fabric into big circles or trying to carve curved diamonds out of the central space (with varying degrees of success.)

Binding in process, but all the central quilting done.  Wasn't through tinkering yet, though.
 Suddenly, the middles of the crosses were looking kind of naked, and so I divined that I might do some hand quilting here after all, where I could use a less conspicuous thread color to match the orange and yellow on the back to the orangey/yellow/red on the front.  You can see that part below, in the very skinny double circle inside the crosses.  Still, though, the front stitches looked okay, and the back ones were seriously cattywompus.  More practice on that definitely required.

I would like to add here that I did the hand-quilting while binge-watching the first season of Deadwood, which is one of Bean's very favorite shows, so as to imbue this quilt with the intense handsomeness of Timothy Olyphant and also with the hilariously crude wisdom of Al Swerengen.  I listened to all sorts of music putting the top together, but if there were to be a sound track for this quilt, it would probably include this and this and also this.  Oh, and of course - this.

The penultimate addition was stitching in the seam lines of the border, and then on the very outside gray border I went hog-wild and FREE MOTION QUILTED a….a….a wiggle.  For lack of a better term.  It just goes back and forth and isn't exactly even or consistent in height or width or wiggle-shape.  But it is a start.  This was me actually moving the fabric around myself rather than the machine doing it - this also requires you to match the speed of your foot-pedal with the speed with which you're moving the fabric, in what I've described before as the crafty version of pat-your-head-rub-your-tummy coordination. I have to say I did a lot better on this little venture than I thought I would.  It's not exactly Angela Walters, but you know, baby steps.
Hand wiggled outside border.
Completed back - the wiggle gets a little lost in the dobby/scrunchy part of the yellow, but I kinda like it anyway.

And as a final touch, I dedicated this quilt to Team Autumn (just using a zig-zag stitch on my machine, and tracing over letters I had chalked on):
Because there is no I in Team, but there are two a youse in Autumn.

And so, to Bean, and also to Señor, and Chadly (in absentia in the wilds of AZ, where it's possible you wouldn't even know whether there was an autumn or not), I say:   our lives may be different, more complicated,  and the days may be getting shorter;  but I feel like there is always time enough for one more trip to the Orchard, and one more apple donut, and one more Friend Thanksgiving, before the leaves all fall and it's time to roll out the Christmas decorations.  I hope this quilt brings you the same warmth as our outings always provided me, and that it proves a stout bulwark against the coming of winter.

Team Autumn, Activate!  And please pass the Turkey.


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