Monday, July 13, 2015

Trials and Triangulations Quilt

So this is my entry for the latest Modern Quilt Guild fabric challenge. For this challenge, participants were given several fat quarters of The Cotton Garden fabric from Riley Blake. The parameters were to “make something fantastic that is quilted,” “make something you have never done before,” “challenge yourself to learn something new” and “use only Riley Blake ‘The Cottage Garden” fabric’” and other Riley Black basics and solids that coordinate with that line. (Check out #mqgfabricchallenge on Instagram to see what everyone else has been making.) I decided that I wanted to make a courthouse steps quilt as my “something you have never done before” and learn how to sew isosceles triangles using the Missouri Star Quilt Co. template I picked up at QuiltCon as my “learn something new.” I kinda love the end result, and I kinda hate it.

The original inspiration: "House Top Quilt Made From Thousands of Triangles," from the collection of Corrine Riley

First off, let me tell you how I settled on this design. An Instagram post by @completelycauchy reminded me of a quilt I had seen in person at Bellevue Art Museum back in 2012 as part of the exhibit “Bold Expressions: African American Quilts from the Collection of Corrine Riley.” In a nutshell, the whole quilt was one great big courthouse steps block, made from itty bitty improv pieces. I loved all the little unexpected triangles. For my project, I intended on paying homage to that piece by making a quilt that was one large courthouse steps block, made from triangles cut with the isosceles template. After I cut out all the triangles and had sewn the center and a couple strips, I realized my design “idea” looked eerily like Krista Hennebury’s Chess on the Steps quilt that had been the Modern Quilt Guild’s pattern of the month for September 2014. Oops! I scrapped that idea and signed up for Krista’s Improv Under the Influence class at Drygoods Design, since it was apparent that I needed to make that quilt, although not for this challenge. (Check out #improvundertheinfluence on Instagram, there’s tons of awesome examples there, and if you scroll way down you can see pictures from the class I took.)

To make this quilt more “original,” I offset the center of the block so it’s not a traditional courthouse steps block. In addition, I added in a long, skinny strip of yellow whenever I felt like it. That’s improv, right? While I like how this design ended up, I’m a little disappointed in myself that I didn’t come up with anything more original for this challenge. Oh well.

I also struggled with the fabric. While I have I lot of respect for anyone who puts in the time, effort and know-how to produce a fabric line, the starter pack we were given just didn’t speak to me. (Maybe it was the red-eyed birds I couldn’t get over, I don’t know.) Early on, I knew I wanted to feature the yellow used in the center of the flowers. While I was shopping for this fabric, I needed to buy some other fabric as well. Instead of taking the time to search out more solid fabric, I just bought what was in stock at the online store I was buying from at the time. I ended up with the Daffodil solid (yay!) and two almost solids, one a gray floral and one a teal text. If I could make this quilt over again, I would use a couple gray solids instead of the almost solids. I think the teal in particular detracts from the yellow, particularly since I also used the teal on the back. A solid gray would have really showcased the yellow hand quilting. Live and learn!

Since the deadline was coming up at the end of July, I kept plugging along, even though I wasn’t 100% happy with how it was turning out. Once I started the quilting, I liked it much better. Since I didn’t have the right yellow Perle thread on hand, I started with the machine quilting. I quilted lines ½” apart back and forth in each of the gray/white/teal sections between the yellow sections. (Protip: bury your machine quilting threads before you start hand quilting, or you’ll end up with a tangled mess!) As soon as I could, I ran to Pacific Fabrics to pick up the yellow thread. They had the perfect color, but it was a little thicker than I wanted. Again, I chose speed over accuracy and made do with the first thing I found. I hand quilted all the yellow parts, also with lines ½” apart. For a while, I took this quilt everywhere: in the car on trips long and short, on picnics, on the bus. Finally, I finished it, with weeks to spare!

The other day I read a quote by Thomas Knauer that said something like we should be proud of our quilts, but not content with them. I’m definitely proud of this quilt, even though I’m not happy with it. While it’s not my favorite quilt ever, I pushed myself creatively and finished before the deadline. It was definitely a learning experience.


  1. I've enjoyed hearing all about the process of making this quilt. It is interesting how our design choices, especially when the materials are not on hand and then are not easily found, can change the outcome. The hand quilting is a great addition to this piece. I love your inspiration quilt.

  2. Even though you have mixed feelings, I really really like what you've created, and I'm proud of how you stretched yourself. I think this piece is a valuable step in your quilting journey. Good job.

  3. I had a similar love/hate (sweet/sour) experience with a quilt top this week. How timely to read your post. I love your honesty and that you continued on with the challenge.

  4. Oh I love hearing about the process behind the quilt and I love the finished quilt too - in the nicest possible way it makes me think of sharks in a sunlit sea!!

  5. Awesomeness! I love what you did with the challenge fabrics. And I love that you highlighted that quilt from the Bellevue Art Museum exhibit. It was my favorite of that exhibit, too, and I instantly recognized it from your picture.