Saturday, May 16, 2015

"Square Dancers" - Shimmer Quilt

Kitty Sorgen, quilter extraordinaire, and Jenny Bowker, the pattern developer, are to blame for this madness! Shimmering Triangles Jenny calls it, and shimmer it does. In fact, it can be over done to the point where it's difficult to look at. But not Kitty's... Kitty, a member of our local guild and the best colorist I know, brought her shimmer quilt to Wednesday night quilting a few months ago, and

WHAMMMO!

I fell in love, bonkers, totally in love with her quilt. This isn't a great photo, but here it is, Kitty's shimmer quilt...

Shimmer quilt by Kitty Sorgen

It's so complex, at first I couldn't even figure out what was a block, squares looking like diamonds, color everywhere, blending in some places, shimmering in others. That day, on the spot, enough of us signed up and paid, filling a one-day class instantly.

Kitty Sorgen teaching shimmer quilt for our local guild


The class was on Feb. 21, 2015. Most of the students got a block finished in class, some even finished two blocks. Each block is 16" square (finished), and has 69 pieces. Below is one block, showing the construction of it.


Robin Atkins, shimmer quilt, block construction

Me? Nope. I didn't sew a stitch. Long after the other students had finished arranging their fabrics on the design wall, I was still struggling with the concept, of how to get shimmer, but not too much shimmer, still arranging my fabrics (photo below).

Robin Atkins, shimmer quilt, tentative layout

It was really difficult to imagine what would shimmer, what might be too contrasty and shimmer too much (for my taste), and what would have too little contrast and thus not shimmer at all.


Robin Atkins, shimmer quilt, final layout
At home, I laid it all out on my work tables again, rearranging and rearranging the fabrics over and over again. The trick, in my opinion, is to work the diagonals. I began with a layout of focal fabrics, in my case "painterly floral prints," leaving space between them for the companion fabrics. Then choose companion "read as solid prints," placing them at the corners of the focals. Like Kitty, I decided to repeat the companions diagonally between two focals. I don't know if this even makes sense, but maybe you can see it in the layout above.


Robin Atkins, shimmer quilt, completed block
Silly me, I thought sewing it, once I got all the fabrics placed, would be a piece of cake. NOT! Well, technically speaking, sewing it is OK. Although it does take some time and attention to detail to get all the half-square triangles square, and the points nice and pointy.


Robin Atkins, shimmer quilt, completed block
But cutting the triangles is another matter. To make the colors and shapes flow, it's important to blur the line of the focal square by blending the design/color outward through the half-square triangles. Above is an example of one that worked pretty well, because you can only barely discern the square of focal fabric in the center of the block.


Robin Atkins, shimmer quilt, cutting fabric for half-square triangles
And here is some fabric I turned into Swiss cheese trying to get triangles that would bring the focal fabric design outward, tricking they eye, making it look like a diamond rather than a square. (Sorry, I didn't take a picture of that particular finished block.)

Robin Atkins, Shimmer quilt, paper piecing

I make the half square triangles using paper piecing, with a free, downloaded template printed on 16 pound copy paper. Paper piecing has a learning curve, yes, but it does make for very accurate piecing, such that I didn't have to trim any of the finished blocks at all!

Robin Atkins, shimmer quilt, four completed blocks

Here is a picture of four finished blocks. You can see the way the companion fabrics repeat diagonally to form a 4-patch block between the focal fabrics. These two fabrics need to be close in value and color. If there is too much contrast, it draws the eye away from the focal fabrics and shimmering triangles. In the case above, I think the orange and pink contrast a little too much. Also on the left the lighter and darker green is also a bit too contrasty.  Fabric choices are difficult and important... Any one companion fabric has to work with two focal fabrics and the adjacent companion fabric, which in turn has to work with it's two adjacent focal fabrics. Sound complicated and challenging? It is!

Robin Atkins, shimmer quilt, ten completed blocks

It took many days (lost count) to finish the first half of the blocks (10 of 20)... and many more to finish the last 10 blocks... a bit character building. Many times, I told promised myself I would never do paper piecing or make another shimmer quilt again in my whole life!

Robin Atkins, Shimmer quilt, auditioning border fabrics

Here I've finished all 20 blocks. I've moved all the furniture out of the studio, and put it on the floor to "audition" border fabrics. Most of the shimmer quilts I've seen do not have borders, but I wanted to make it a bit bigger so it could be used for a bed quilt.


Robin Atkins, Shimmer quilt, before quilting
This is how it looks all finished, before quilting it, 90 x 74 inches.

Since the throat of my old machine is much too narrow to free-motion quilt a piece this size, I decided to get a professional to quilt it. But first I agonized some about how to do it. At first I thought it would be good to fussy quilt, making flowers in the companion fabric areas and vertical vines with leaves over the focal fabrics. This was my sketch for the idea.

Robin Atkins, Shimmer quilt, tentative quilting design

But then I saw a few quilts done like that, and the fussy quilting looked too busy, competing too much with the shimmer. So finally, I decided on using a double-leaf, free-motion edge-to-edge design. I named my quilt Square Dancers, because of the colorful costumes, movement, and squares.

Now that it's finished, guess what?  I started gathering fabrics for my second shimmer quilt. I want a spring-summer quilt for my bed in softer, lighter colors. It needs to be bigger than the first one, at least 36 blocks, to work on a queen size bed. Here are some of the fabrics I've found so far:

Robin Atkins, focal fabrics for next shimmer quilt

Robin Atkins, focal fabrics for next shimmer quilt

Robin Atkins, focal fabrics for next shimmer quilt

Robin Atkins, focal fabrics for next shimmer quilt

These are mostly designs by Philip Jacobs, one of the Kaffe Fassett Collective designers. I love his colors and designs! I will use other fabrics in my stash, but more than half of the 36 focals will be like these.

It will be fun to try this again, to apply what I've learned on the first one, to try to improve my fabric choices, always with the goal of some shimmer (but not too much) and good flow throughout the quilt. I'll also try to pick up my speed a bit, without sacrificing accuracy in the piecing.

Expect a post about #2 shimmer quilt in a couple of months. Right now, I'm still gathering fabrics.









19 comments:

  1. Looks like you've got your work cut out for you. Have fun!

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    1. Thanks, Dolores! In this case, work = fun!

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  2. I love it and I want one too!

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    1. You could have this one, Kelly Dee... I'd like to sell it to get funds for the next (bigger) one.

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  3. So full of energy and life... stunning! I instantly thought of looking at a colorful flower garden through those old fashioned thick glass blocks. Really love the effect. And I like the border, it feels like a "frame" for the art, and gives me a finished feeling. Can't wait to see the next one.

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    1. Thanks, Retta! I'm really glad to hear you like the border, since that was the only part that I did without knowing how well it would look. Bless you for always being such a wonderful support!

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  4. Spectacular, Robin! What a glorious riot of color. I enjoyed reading about your process of fabric selection and fussy cutting. I can totally relate to the amount of mental gymnastics it takes to design a quilt like this. I love the softer color palette that you have chosen for your next quilt. I am glad you are planning to update on the blog as you are working on that quilt. I am intrigued by the pattern and am looking forward to seeing how your next quilt evolves. Good luck with fabric selection!

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    1. Thanks, Pam! Coming from you, that is quite a compliment! "Mental gymnastics" is a great and totally appropriate phrase... thanks for giving it to me.

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  5. Gorgeous! Like a flower garden in a quilt.

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  6. These quilts have such depth to them, I love how the first sample has this sort of iridescent shimmer to it.

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  8. WOW ! Your quilt is beautiful. To me it reminds me of a ripple. When you throw a rock into a lake and the water ripples where the rock enters the water. This quilt looks quite difficult, and your choice of fabrics are awesome. I would love to try to make this quilt. I must say though that the triangles are not my favorite to cut and piece. Your fabric choice for your second quilt it really pretty too. Cant wait to see it. Best wishes.

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  9. Very great post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your weblog posts. After all I’ll be subscribing on your feed and I am hoping you write again very soon!

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  10. Lovely to see my fabric used so beautifully

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  11. Lovely to see my fabric used so beautifully

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    1. Lovely to have your fabrics in the world, even the older designs sometimes available on eBay or Etsy!!! Thanks for your response... I'm honored. When this shimmer quilt won Best of Show at our County Fair last week, I told the Superintendent that it's only because of the fabrics, more than half of which are yours!

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  12. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts about color theory for your quilt. Very challenging! Congratulations on persisting with your vision & creating a gorgelus quilt! I appreciate being invited into your process!

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  13. Great to read about your process and the lovely result. I have made 3 shimmer quilts so far without any instructions. I divided the blocks differently and had all solid print squares with the half-square triangles in separate blocks between. This makes it harder in some ways and easier in others, I'd guess. The color/fabric choices are tough. I used batiks in my first less successful try, then 2 with Kaffe Fassett fabrics. They are easier to coordinate.I don't want to break up the big prints into 4 squares.

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  14. Hi Robin! I've been eyeballing this pattern for a while, but being a lazy person I have to ask, is there a reason that all those triangles can't be done by strip quilting?

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Thanks you for joining the discussion on this post today!