Slice of Improv: Part 2

Earlier this week, I shared some highlights from my "Slice of Improv" demo with all the wonderful women attending Quilting 101.  It is incredibly rewarding to introduce them to new techniques, inspire new design opportunities and ultimately help attendees make the project their very own!  It is so much fun to witness their excitement as they created their own precious blocks.

Given the flurry of creativity and excitement, the end of class is always bittersweet!  It is such a delight when attendees find me at the end of class to thank me and they are smiling ear to ear!  But then it is all over...and you are left wondering what becomes of their projects.  I always encourage attendees to send pictures of their finished projects.  But an even better treat is when they bring their finished quilts/tops to a meeting show and tell and they proudly present their works of art to all in attendance!  
Barbara B (left) and Martha H (right)
Such was my good fortune at our monthly quilt guild when two attendees found me during the pre-meeting festivities to share that they had finished piecing all their blocks and brought their finished tops/quilts for show and tell!!  And I will confess that I simply could not wait until the show and tell portion of the meeting and just had to see their projects right then and there!!  

Barbara B. found me first and I just swooned as she proudly held up her quilt (that was already bound!!--most impressive as each block does require some time and effort to piece)  Barbara had brought a gorgeous stack of her own hand dyed fabrics to the demo day, and they were to dye for!!  I had to remind myself "thou shall not covet thy student's stash!!"  So she was off to a fabulous start with her fabric pull.  Then she took it to the next level and created this wonderful gradient effect that really required some planning and foresight, but is so magnificent!!  

A few minutes later, Martha H found me to share that she too had finished piecing all her blocks together and had her quilt top complete!!  And once again, I was in awe at how fabulous it looked!!  Martha shared how she scored an amazing collection of scraps in coordinated prints at her small quilt group!  She knew they were perfect for a Slice of Improv and started improv piecing her blocks.  And check out the exciting range of her block designs.  She was truly fearless and pieced Xs, Pi shapes and even curves!!  Her top has such wonderful movement and interest and I cannot wait to see it finished!!  

And then I had a little show and tell to share as well!!  The day after the second demo, I brought all the donated blocks to my small quilt group, several of whom had offered to assist with piecing additional squares required, layout and assembly.  While I had seen them all hung on the design board at the front of the sewing room, I hadn't had a chance to count them all or even consider I welcomed their assistance.  We began by organizing the blocks by colorway and counting each pile, and were stunned by the final count:  75 blocks!!!  Martine Y. and Sharon F. generously offered to assemble 5 more blocks so that an 8x10 layout could be achieved, while I began laying out the blocks to create a rainbow gradient.  Once the blocks were all hung on the vertical design board, I sat down at my seat to get perspective and identify any areas that needed fine tuning.  And then, the blue tape that was holding the design wall up gave way and it all came crashing down!  A brief flash of panic, but then I remembered the several instances when I had lost entire college term papers and had to begin again.  Despite the initial stress and frustration, when all was said and done, this unfortunate mishap yielded a significantly improved second draft (to which I was careful to save more frequently!)  So, not taking any further chances, the design wall was placed onto the floor, blocks sorted into color piles and then laid out into the rainbow spectrum.  And this time, I had the foresight to take a picture for future reference!

Within the first hour, we had already achieved my original goal of figuring out the layout!  Martine then offered to help assemble the quilt top.  This was music to my ears and I adjusted my original goal to hopefully get the blocks sewn into rows, which would make it all that much easier to transport home to be finished.  Well, Martine and I were quite the power duo as we labelled all the blocks, sewed them into ten rows, which were then expertly assembled into a top!  Martine was pinning the rows together and running them through her machine just as fast as I was pressing all the seams!  It was quite the impressive feat and after only a few hours, I very much enjoyed admiring the newly assembled top!
Progression of Block Donations and Assembly
Once all the blocks were assembled, the top measured 40" x 50".  As we were aiming for a lap sized quilt to donate to Unity Care, borders would be required.  Adding a 5" strip to each side would have done the job, but then I asked my infamous question "What if...?" and went to work playing with designs on the computer.  In lieu of EQ7, I opened a new Microsoft Word document and inserted a large rectangle shape that I filled in with a matching grey.  Microsoft Paint was used to crop the photograph of the assembled blocks.  This Paint image could then be copied and pasted into the earlier Word document and layered on top of the grey rectangle.  While the straight set borders was effective, I tried rotating the assembled blocks 90-degrees to create a large band across the quilt and could be brought up to lap size by assembling a strip on top and below.  I liked this design concept but the diagonal now ran from top left to bottom right, which for some unknown reason, I did not entirely like.  And as I was rotating it back to the original layout, I got half-way and Eureka!!  This additional layer of wonkiness was the perfect complement for the improv-pieced blocks.
Border Options 1, 2 and 3
Super excited about this border design, I got to work on assembling them...but was a bit stumped as to how to best proceed.  When working on blocks, I've typically made my blocks larger and then incorporated the wonky factor at time of trimming them up.  Adapting this process to a lap sized quilt would be both very difficult and very wasteful.  As my handy dandy mathematician was still at work, I went "old school" with some paper and pen mock ups.  Using a 1 foot (quilt)=1 inch (paper mock up) scale, I measured and cut out a 4"x5" model out of scrap paper (outlined and gridded in pink) to represent the 40"x50" center panel of pieced squares.  I did the same making a 5"x6" version of the desired 50"x60" lap size quilt.  Then I simply rotated the pink unit to a pleasing layout and taped down.  Using my paper model, I could then measure each of the border dimensions and scale up to full size.  In my paper version, each side of the border was 5" long, so each of my borders would need to be at least 50" long.  If I cut them 12" high, I could cut them on the diagonal yielding two borders units.  Once I had the 12"x50" strip, I used 3 rulers end to end to cut the strips on the diagonal.  And given that they were now cut on the bias, I took great care not to distort any of the edges when attaching to the center panel.     
From Computer to Paper Model for Adding the Wonky Factor
Ok--I hope I didn't lose you in all that mathematical/technical mumbo jumbo!!

The Q101 organizers encouraged me to bring the pieced blocks to the upcoming guild meeting to show off everyone's fabulous designs.  As the guild's historian, I find it difficult to get quality photos of quilt tops being held up on the stage.  They usually waver a bit and the harsh theatre lights often shine through the tops making them semi-transparent.  With the borders added, I was at a crossroads:  keep the top as is and bring to the guild meeting or attempt to get it layered, quilted and bound in time for the meeting that was just 5 days away.  Well, you probably guessed my decision...go for it!!  

The backing was easily pieced that afternoon and basted at night.  The next day I began stitching in the ditch which went super fast...and then the fun free motion zig zag meander around each of the fabric inserts-helping them to really pop!!  Oh--and did I mention that I was doing all this on a loaner machine that had a considerably smaller throat space?!?  I remembered Leah Day's advice to simply divide your quilt into quarters, which made it much more manageable.  So let this be proof that large quilts can indeed be quilted on a small domestic sewing machine!!

For the borders, I turned to my trusty blue painter's tape!  I had three rolls of tape, each with a different sized widths.  I placed strips all along the borders, with a few overlapping to simulate the improv pieced blocks.  I then stitched and outline along the tape and filled in the negative space with the same zig zag meander--which helped the areas previously covered in tape to pop!    

Here are some more detailed shots of the blocks and surrounding quilted texture...
Zig Zag Quilted Texture
Photographer's Assistant aka "Mr. Wilson"
There was a scrap of this fabulous rainbow print on my cutting board, that I decided to slice up and insert into the binding for a fun accent.

Sunday morning, I finished quilting the last two borders, trim up the edges and complete the binding just a little after lunchtime.  All I had left was add a label and capture some photographs of the finished quilt.  Doug's services were drafted to assist with photographing the finished quilt.  It was a bit windy out so most of the pictures were not ideal...but I got a fun chuckle when I saw this one pic.  It reminded me of Mr. Wilson Wilson, the infamous neighbor from the Home Improvement television series.

"Slice of Improv", Finishes 50" x 60"
"Slice of Improv" made its debut at Monday's guild meeting.  I especially enjoyed seeing the Q101 attendees inspect it closer during the break and hunt for their blocks!  And speaking of blocks--did you notice any subliminal messages in the quilt picture above?!?  In case you missed it--you are not alone!  Not until the blocks were completely assembled into rows and columns, did I realize that one of the yellow blocks says "Hi."  When it was first handed to me by the member, it was rotated 90 degrees and so I never picked up on the hidden message!  What fun!
Hi!  and Good Bye!!
The label was made using one of the donated blocks.  During and after the meeting, quite a few members came up to praise the quilt and others asked how I managed to finish it so fast.  In reality--this quilt was made possible thanks to the combined creativity, time, effort and generosity of so many of our guild members!  My sincere thanks to all who contributed to this community quilt.

This quilt will be donated to Unity Care, where it is sure to brighten the life and home of a foster child transitioning to independent living.