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Friday, January 30, 2015

What Knot to Do: An Exercise in Vexing Vexillology

…being a study in symbolism, secession, and pre-washing your fabrics.

My brother, El Jefe "the Benevolent" Reflux, has a plan for a future Family Compound out in the sticks, wherein we might all grow old peacefully quilting, tinkering with cars, racing golf carts pell mell through the underbrush, raising bees, holding extemporaneous chamber music concerts in a sunken garden, riding draft horses, singing harmonies, swimming in the barn pool, owning goats (well, maybe not goats) and inventing and marketing gadgets to support our absurdly lush lifestyle.

He refers to this promised land of goat milk and locavore honey as "Mikeuador."

He is quite serious about it, and if there's one thing I know about my brother, it's the fact that when he gets an idea in his head about something, even if its overarching grandeur is something too abstruse for the hoi polloi to conjure or conceive, then by gum that thing will happen if he has to will it into existence by sheer number of times it is brought up in conversation.  And sure enough, he appears to be on the verge of pulling the trigger on Mikeuador.  Good on you, bro!  Your planet-sized dreams far outstrip those of mere mortals, but we are so, so glad to be pulled along in your orbit.  I will always be your willing subject, as I have been since that one rainy childhood day we spent in amicable partnership, with you drawing the logos of all the Major League Baseball teams and me coloring them in.

And every dictator knows that a good principality needs a good flag to rally his minions, and that is what I made him.  He is the last of my natural siblings to get something handmade from me, and his was trickiest.  But at long last, Behold!  the symbol of your upcoming subjugation:

This project was not without its trials and tribulations.
This is technically an appliqué, with the only piecing being the borders, and I had literally no idea how one might put such a thing together when I embarked on this project, oh, like a year ago.  Fortunately, I stumbled across this thing called the "internet" and holy crap, you guys, there is SO MUCH information on there.  You should totally go check it out!

Problem was, there was SO MUCH information out there that it took me awhile before it was making any kind of sense.  I mean, was I going to have to cut this sucker out in pieces and re-attach them in knot formation?  With all those curved seams and such? I don't frickin' thin' so, Quickstraw.  And once I figure that out, does this require me to do some kind of time-sucking needle-turned appliqué, meaning sewing the edges of all of this thing under by hand?  Hm. Possible, but not if I wanted this done in this decade.  And some of the appliqué tutorials involved sewing right sides together of fabric and fusible interfacing, and then turning the resulting unit inside out through a slit in the interfacing, so you could then iron your interfaced unit to the backing fabric.  Let's just imagine for a moment the dizzying unliklihood of turning this knot inside-out.  Go ahead, I'll wait.  I'm envisioning something like strands of spaghetti doing yoga on a Twister mat.  Brain cramp?  Yeah, me too.

As it turns out, and as all best solutions usually are, this was remarkably easy once I discovered the right tool for the job.  Interfacing would be necessary, yes, but the breakthrough here was that there exists in this world double-faced interfacing that you simply iron onto your whole piece of fabric; cut out the shape you want; and then take off a paper backing to reveal the OTHER fusible side to the interfacing, and then iron the whole shitteree onto the background fabric.  Yes. You are making your own iron-on decals, just like the ones you used to be able to buy in the malls in 1982 for your ring-neck t-shirt before those were ironic.

Approximation of actual t-shirt owned by oldest sister, Lulu Fishpaw Reflux, in 1982.
So double-faced interfacing, yeah!  This trick took me one year to learn.  But imagine my delight when I finally figured it out and then managed the appliqué part of the flag in ONE DAY.  Not even a whole day.  A matter of hours.


There was the little matter of transferring the pattern.  Back in my collegiate days, I was sort of totally obsessed with Celtic knots and geometric fillers of all sorts - guess I was kind of destined to become a quilter, eh? - and spent untold hours in my dorm room attempting to draw knots of varying difficulties, with varying degrees of success.  This card was one I made for a dear friend's 19th birthday back then, and she resurrected it by posting this on Facebook when she stumbled across it serendipitously stuck in one of her books (that happened on MY birthday last year.  Weird!  And in fact, it was her post that prompted El Jefe to declare his desire for a knot-quilt, and now we've come full circle, so to speak.)

Side-note: Almost all of my knot-drawin' expertise, such as it is, came from this excellent old book "Celtic Art: The Methods of Construction" by George Bain - this is seriously the one-stop guide to figuring these out.  When El Jefe requested a knot quilt after this card was posted, I realized that somewhere I had lost this iconic tome and had to reappropriate it from Amazon, because of course Amazon has it because Amazon.

the sine qua non.  Lavishly Illustrated!

As it turns out, though, my drafting skills were not even required, because thanks to The Internet (™), you can find all manner of knots and scribbles and such, which you can trace right on to your interfacing without turning a knotty hair.

It should come as no surprise that someone has already figured out what makes a good flag, and it should also come as no surprise that I felt compelled to research what that person said about it.  On the website of the North American Vexillological Society, we learn The 5 Basic Principles of Flag Design:
  1. Keep It Simple - The flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory
  2. Use Meaningful Symbolism - The flag’s images, colors, or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes
  3. Use 2–3 Basic Color - Limit the number of colors on the flag to three, which contrast well and come from the standard color set
  4. No Lettering or Seals - Never use writing of any kind or an organization’s seal
  5.  Be Distinctive or Be Related - Avoid duplicating other flags, but use similarities to show connections

So for the flag of the principality of Mikeuador, initially I was actually trying a different knot, a simpler one, and I was fairly successful in making it in a small test pattern.  But trying to blow up the pattern into something that would make you stand up and salute revealed that the image I was using, found randomly online, was not very precise.

The first knot, in its blown up state

I did manage to transfer the above simpler knot, common in Chinese embroidery as well as Celtic illuminations, when it was just one sheet of paper, using double-faced ironed interfacing to a pillow sized piece of fabric:
It was scrap fabric.  I realize this looks weird.  Solids were way better.
…and that was thrilling, but it just looked crappy when I printed it in its larger size and taped those sheets together.  The inaccuracy was exacerbated at bigger sizes, so I went in search of something that was more mechanically drawn.
A different kind of series of tubes.  Something very Tron about this.
I had much better luck with this image, which, while definitely still showing some hand-drawn inconsistencies, was much more skillfully rendered when small, so looked pretty close to perfect when large.

This is two and a sliver rows of double-faced interfacing taped together with the enlarged pattern traced onto it, in my trusty red Sharpie.  The smooth side of the interfacing is up, and the bumpy side, i.e., the side with the glue on it, is down.  Then I ironed the bumpy-side down, this entire taped-together thing, to the solid blue fabric.

And then I cut that sucker out, along the traced red lines.  The back of this still has the interfacing.

Fun fact! They let me into kindergarten when I was four because I already knew how to use scissors.  Apparently that's like some kind of golden key for kindergarten administrators.  I used embroidery scissors to get into these many many MANY holes, but those damn scissors are TINY and this felt like it took forever.  The result was cool, though. 

Then in a dramatic reveal, you RIP the backing paper off the smooth side of the interfacing, and now you can iron THAT side onto your backing fabric.  Your iron-on decal is complete! 

In order to make the knot look like it was going over and under itself, I just hand-embroidered straight (er, mostly straight) lines in white embroidery floss to match the background fabric.  This was the longest part of the project, apart from the FIGURING IT OUT PART, and the binding which is always a couple of long days; it necessitated some hours on the couch in front of a number of Netflix'd seasons of "White Collar" which is so dumb, you guys, but who even cares because Matt Bomer is so pretty.  

And voila!  The finished over/under effect.

In addition to the interfacing, I just did a top stitch to hold the knot to the backing white fabric, leaving a raw edge on the appliqué.  You can see here that my cutting job was a little wobbly in spots, but the overall appearance smoothed those right out.

I cut the white background fabric an even distance away from each edge of the knot; then the borders were easy enough to throw on afterwards.  A backing of a cotton/poly canvas plus a single layer of coarsely woven bark cloth as batting made this thin and created a delightful drape, suitable for the embodiment of sovereign majesty that it is.  The final touch was adding hanging sleeves, so that this could grace El Jefe's office without any kind of frame required, until such time as it waves proudly over Mikeuador, as a beacon of hope to all of those tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free, who also aspire to retire/secede to their own barn pools and golf carts and goats (well, maybe not goats) and air hockey tournaments.  ¡VIVA MIKEUADOR!  LONG LIVE EL JEFE THE BENEVOLENT!


Tragedy struck in the 11th hour when I had put the entire thing together and bound it, and added sleeves…. and then took it to a dry cleaners to press out some of the wrinkles engendered by my handiwork.  I thought dry-cleaning would be better than a regular washing machine for limiting pucker of the fabrics - pucker being great for a puckery, cozy quilt…. but not great, Bob, for a proud declaration of the coming hegemony, which I felt should hang simply and neatly.
You really don't expect your stuff to come back from the dry-cleaners MORE wrinkled, but….

…that is what happened.  Gross! IT LOOKS LIKE CELLULITE.

Upon reflection, this was a total rookie mistake.  Because I had pre-washed my cotton fabrics to shrink them (which I never do for quilts, btw, unless it was thrifted or otherwise used fabric) before making any cuts BUT had forgotten that originally I pre-washed an entirely different shade of blue that I ended up jettisoning in favor of this darker navy.  BUT I DIDN'T PRE-WASH THE NAVY.  And so when it was dry-cleaned, the navy shrunk when the backing fabric had already gone through that process, and there we have it - instant stupid motherpucker.

Damn and blast!

This actually happened right after Christmas, AND after I broke a personal rule by showing the only-mostly-finished product to my bro and his wife pre-dry cleaning.  Then The Tragedy of the Dreaded Pucker happened, and I was torn - do I give them this product in its imperfect state, or do I delay the gifting, already a year in the making, until I can recreate this whole thing, doing it correctly?  WHAT WOULD BETSY ROSS DO?

The answer is: B.  So expect an update when the second attempt flag, now in progress, hangs virtuous and true from the hallowed rafters of the halls of El Jefe the Benevolent.  Until then: I pledge allegiance, now and forevermore, to the bees and goats and sunken gardens of my homeland, and joyfully salute my comrade El Jefe for his unfailing vision of a better land, a better place: a place with fast internet and solar power and waterslides; a place that may or may not have goats; a place where we can fly our freak flags as high and proud as we like.  Even if they are wrinkly. Though they will NOT be wrinkly when they arrive upon your shores.

 Until then:  ¡VIVA MIKEUADOR!




  1. Nice work. Always knew you were a talented hippy chick.

    1. Thanks, Big Dan. Do you have a principality that needs a flag? Just lemme know!