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Freestyle Quilting – Some Insight into My Process

Posted at June 27th, 2011
Posted by Ebony
Categories: Studio Projects

Last month, I agreed to make a quilt for the Trash to Treasure Pineapple Quilt Challenge on Facebook.  The requirements were to choose a month of the year to be inspired by (I chose August), you had to include 4 pineapple blocks, and the quilt had to include some sort of applique inspired by the month.

I took a lot of photos and posted them on Facebook as the quilt progressed, but if you aren’t connected to my “Designer” page, you probably didn’t see it.  I thought it would be a good idea to re-post that here with a little additional commentary on how this quilt progressed.  A lot of people ask me where I come up with my ideas… I guess the answer to that would be “everywhere” but that’s not really helpful, is it?  So here’s sort of a day-in-the-life of a quilt project.

It started with this pineapple block, that I made MONTHS ago:

Now the idea behind pineapple blocks is that they are supposed to be scrappy.  Even though I cut up thousands of scraps into usable pieces for making scrap quilts, I rarely actually make scrap quilts.  Most of it is because I have a really hard time mentally accepting “random” pieces.  This block is the closest I’ve gotten to random – when I first started, I actually allowed myself to use different fabrics for each side, but it didn’t take me long to revert to using the same fabric in each round.  The color selection was based more upon whether I had a strip of fabric that would go all the way around, rather than by color.

Anyway, I didn’t want this block to go to waste, but I didn’t have enough of the same fabrics to make 3 more of this block, so I needed another plan.  I decided to think about what my selected month, August, meant to me, and so I started thinking a lot about my childhood.  I came up with these words:

  • Pool
  • Birthday
  • Sidewalk
  • Hot
  • Grass
  • Creamsicles
  • Kool-Aid
  • Sky
  • Sun

And from those words, I chose my rounds.  I already had 5 block centers made, so I decided that those would represent the Pool and the Sun (those are on the far right).  Then the rounds, from left to right: sky, grass, birthday (peridot is my birthstone), sidewalk, creamsicle (orange), kool-aid, and then the last round represents the night sky – as a kid, I had to be indoors before this time.  :)

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With the colors selected, I rough-cut them into lengths for the pineapple rounds (I am using the Pineapple ruler designed by Gyleen Fitzgerald – it’s not pictured.)  As you can see, I tried harder to include fabric scraps that are the same color but not the same print.

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Once I finished the pineapple blocks, I experimented with different layouts, turning the blocks this way and that, until I settled on this on-point layout:

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This layout just struck me as really vibrant, and I wanted to preserve this look.  I thought about using setting triangles, but it seemed a little too early to finish this top; plus, I didn’t use an inspiration fabric, so good luck finding a print that would look good.  So I took a look at my stash and decided that a striped border would look really cool, in a progression of greys.  So I chose four greys from my Kona collection: pepper, charcoal, medium grey, and ash.  I cut strips the WOF in various widths and chain pieced them:

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I thought this was a cool pic from the back of my machine, with the strips rolling themselves like ribbon...

With the strip sets assembled, I pressed all the seams toward the darker fabric:

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As I played with them on the design board, I thought mitered corners would be best for stripes, instead of butting the ends together, because it makes the on-point layout seem more purposeful and intended:

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Next I had to choose an applique.  At first, I was going to use these Chinese characters that represent Birth and Life, but I didn’t want to cover up my pineapple blocks. Next, I thought I would applique a lion (representing Leo, the Zodiac symbol for my birthday.) But then I thought that would look strange and not integrated at all, almost like an afterthought.

I took a break at this point and went to run some errands, one of which was to pick up my mail.  Here’s what was in one package:

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So how perfect is that?  August is HOT, and this sun looks absolutely blazing!  I quickly fused some red strips and cut out some sun shapes.  At the same time, I was mitering, and I thought I would play a little bit with placement.  I also wanted to see if the quilt really needed to be on-point:

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Blech!!! (Yes, those are more mug rug tops – I can’t stop!)  I don’t know which sucked the life out of this quilt more – the applique or turning it square.  From that point on, I decided that this quilt just called for being on-point.  I tried the suns in a different location:

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I like them a lot better there, but something still seems to be missing.  I like the border progression, but I don’t like the way the ash color just seems to float out there.  I talked to the folks at my LQS, and one of the ladies suggested I use setting triangles in Kona Snow.  But after looking at the quilt again, I really didn’t want it to have setting triangles.  For one, I was lazy and didn’t want to calculate the size to cut the setting triangles for a quilt this large (the sides are 38″), and two… it just didn’t seem to need them.  But it definitely needed something else.

So I went hunting through my die stash, and found a couple of Arabesque dies by Ricky Tims that I’d never opened.  So I cut some out, and pinned them to the quilt:

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This is much better, but it still seemed to be missing something, so I took some of the smaller cutouts and added those:

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Still not enough, so I cut a different Arabesque shape and added those.  It seemed though that the center was feeling a bit “heavy” because the Arabesque shapes are very airy, while the suns are really solid. So I played a little with the shapes:

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I considered this to be about 90% done at this point; notice I also added some diamond applique shapes to the pineapple blocks to make it more continuous.  The suns still felt too heavy in the center so I moved them to the outside:

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And when I made that final move, that’s when I told myself it was done.  This freestyle method of creating can be a little nervewracking at times, and I constantly marvel at how I can work on a quilt and not know where it’s going, but I can’t seem to let randomness enter when I’m piecing blocks.  Somehow though, that paradox works for me.  And if you look at this project with the individual pictures, at anytime I could have stopped and said “that’s never going to work.”  When you look at the colors in my pineapple block, I don’t know if most people would say, sure throw all those colors together like that, with those dark pieces in the corners and mixing turquoise and green and red together.  Looking at the borders in that mid stage, a lot of people would say, that looks weird and doesn’t look right!  But at the end, it seems to work.  At least for me it does.  So as you work on your own projects, you may have your own doubts; other people might have different opinions, and sometimes you’ll listen and other times you won’t; you may not know where it is going – but in the end, it’s YOUR quilt, and only you will know when it is right, and when it is finished.

Now for some of the more mundane things, like fusing:

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I roughly pinned the appliques in place, but as I was fusing, I did measure to make sure things were straight, centered, and not wonky.  I love having my ironing board at the end of my cutting table, because it lets me spread out projects completely!  I do have some ideas for the hanging method – since it’s on-point, it will need lots of support, so I’ll talk more about that after it’s quilted.  Speaking of quilting, the appliques will be stitched down during quilting, rather than separately with a satin stitch.  Don’t ask me how I’m going to quilt this as I have NO idea, but I’d better come up with an idea quickly because this puppy is supposed to be finished by Thursday!

I also had some leftovers from the applique and the mitering, so I assembled those together into a smallish 20″ x 27″ piece.  This could be a table runner or a wall hanging – I won’t know which until it’s done.  I may use this as a practice piece before I quilt its cousin.

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To endless possibilities,

2 Responses to “Freestyle Quilting – Some Insight into My Process”

  • it was neat to see your process. i often wonder how other “folks” design what they are doing…the quilt is gorgeous. and i adore the borders

  • Kristy Wilkinson

    Ebony- I love the big quilt. The little one is really cool too. It plays with the optical illusions and makes you feel like you are going down some stairs to get that little flower. Thanks for sharing your process. I do this too when making things on the fly. The leftovers are what make it fun since you can create something unexpected with them. Thanks again for all you do-


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