Sunday, August 9, 2015

August 9 : Ecuadorian Adventure Quilt

In late March I began working on a new quilt. I was inspired by the beautiful quilt-like patterns of the farms I saw while hiking around Ecuador earlier in the year and I wanted to try to capture that in a literal quilt.

I guess I'm on a horse in this one... so much for getting credit for hiking around South America!
Endless hills of rectangular shapes. Some parts of these hills were incredibly steep and yet you'd find farmers working the land everywhere – it was amazing.
With most art projects, I have an idea and am immediately impatient to start the process. I don't like to sit around thinking through the details or I end up never doing it. As soon as I got back to the states I did a quick sketch of what I wanted the quilt to be – then I began.

I started with the sky, cutting out a ton of 2x2 inch pieces (very therapeutic) and then laying them out in the gradation I liked.

By the end there were 35 columns and 17 rows equalling 595 squares to create the sky.
You can see that the table wasn't wide enough even with the extra leaves in (normally reserved exclusively for Thanksgiving dinner) so an improvised piece of scrap wood had to step in.
Once everything was mapped out I numbered each row and sewed down the line. 

After each row was sewn the next step was sewing all of the rows together.

The sky is done! 
I should mention that my aunt is a long time quilter and generously gave me a ton of her old quilting scraps.

Here I am going through the loot when Tante J first gave me it all in early March
Almost the entire quilt is made out of her scraps. This was fabulously helpful in getting such a varied sky, and later hills and grass. It would be near impossible to buy so many small amounts of material - we're talking 50 different blues not to mention all of the other colors that come later on! If I had gone to a store and tried to get a sales person to cut me that many different small swatches of fabric they would have kicked me out. Having such a wealth of scraps to choose from was more than wonderful. I also think it's lovely that Tante J can look at this quilt and see so many years of scraps from other creations she's worked on. I'm sure there are a handful of swatches from quilts she's made as wedding presents, baby blankets and more. That feels important and meaningful – she has not only passed down the knowledge of quilting to me but also physical fabric which I will have scraps of and one day can pass on to the next generation. That's so lovely!!

I'm getting side tracked! After the sky was done, it was time to do the far off mountains. These were pretty quick though difficult to attach to the sky once complete. I toyed with the idea of having snow capped peaks in the distance but felt like they would detract from the sky. I made the distant mountains more linear since the green hills, although made up of rectangles, would feel more scattered and random and I wanted some contrast between the two sections.

playing with colors and potential snow capped peaks
the end result
Another side note is the variety of tv, movies and podcasts that entertained me. Anytime I was working on this, there was something playing in the background. Your public library should be your friend all of the time but especially when working on something like this. 

For example, The Muppet Show - AMAZING! It was crazy how certain scenes were so vivid from watching as a kid and others I had no recollection of.
Entertainment that you can be half paying attention to is great since you are also focusing on what you are cutting, measuring and sewing.

The next task at hand were the rolling rectangular spliced hills that inspired me in the first place. I took some old printer paper and laid it out as a template to work off of.

A John Oliver segment playing in the background.  
The finalized hill template.
The template gives you something to consult and is easier to visualize what fabric you want where. Also the main body of the quilt was getting large and hard to keep laying out to reference so the template was a good tool.

At this point I was at my parent's house and able to take over a spare bedroom as my quilting studio. To the left directly above where you can see the hill starting to come together is an old cut out figure of myself. My friend Laura made this as a fill-in-Malina while I was studying abroad in High School and it's still here to sit eerily at the end of the guest bed – come stay at the Leslie house sometime! 

After the green hills were attached I moved on to the grass. I took a long rectangular piece of fabric and started pinning the thin strips of grass to that. Lots of pinning and sewing and then laying it out again and doing some more pinning and sewing. This was a critical time where old episodes of This American Life, Radiolab and 99 Percent Invisible were my best friends.

Close up of the long piece of fabric with some grass already sewn to it and a line of awaiting grass above. Note: Little Mermaid bed sheets under the fabric. I should also mention that this bed was made by my dad to look like a firetruck (it had been a bunk bed for my brothers though we cut the top half off years later) so you'll see some fun buttons and knobs on the headboard. Again, come stay at the Leslie house!

Once the grass was underway I began playing with the guanaco. A guanaco is a South American camelid and one of Danny and my favorite animals. Planet Earth (an amazing BBC series which you have to watch if you haven't and while you're at it, watch a second time because it is that amazing) has a small section on guanacos which somehow become a big part of our lives. We love guanacos! We wanted to see guanacos face-to-face which is partly what sparked our trip to South America so this seemed essential to add one into the quilt.

Here we are in Peru – the animal in the upper left corner and the one in the center between our heads are guanacos. We were ecstatic!
First step was to look at some photos for reference and then create a template.

Then it was time to begin creating a fabric version.

The Little Mermaid has a new bestie!
Gus has a new bestie!

Grass & Guanaco Complete
Attaching the grass section to the rest of the quilt proved intensive. Each piece of grass had to be sewn to the green hills separately plus the background fabric that the grass was attached to needed to be cut so there wasn't such a solid line.

Cutting away the grass background & pinning the individual grass strands down

The far left portion still has the background fabric showing whereas the right portion has all been individually attached to the main body of the quilt and the background fabric has been cut away.
The next task was to make a red border:

Once that was complete (and a backing was made which isn't all that exciting so I'll skip sharing that step) it was time to attach the three layers. I convinced both of my parents to help me do the tough job of placing each layer down and then putting a billion safety pins through all layers so nothing would shift in the next quilting stage.

Here we are (shout out to my papa in the photos and my mama who took the photos!) safety pinning the top layer to the big white layer which is the batting and underneath that lies the backing. The batting gives the quilt warmth and weight.
Yoga has a new Saftey Pinning Pose
I spy my mom's hand woven scarves and my dad's hand painted cycle books on the wall!

With the safety pins in place I was able to start quilting. To "quilt" is when you sew two or more layers of material together. Some quilters have their own quilting machine which looks similar to a large sewing machine that you use to make fun patterns while directly sewing together your layers of fabric.

This is the quilting machine set-up that I tested out 4 years ago. The fabric is pulled by multiple bars and then the quilting machine goes over the top to sew all of the layers together.

So cool!
Alas, I do not own an amazing quilting machine so I quilted by hand this time around. Luckily my mom is a weaver and has every color yarn imaginable so the knots became more or less invisible. A knot was tied every 2-3 inches which took a long time. A very long time.

Then it was time to cut off the excess batting and ready the binding.

The batting (white layer showing around the edge of the quilt) needs to be cut – you leave this longer than the top layer just in case there's any shifting while you are attaching all of the layers but once everything has been sewn together, it's time to cut it loose.
The top of the photo shows batting still needing to be cut away vs. the bottom part has already been cut flush with the rest of the top layer

The binding is sewn to the top layer of the quilt, 1/4 of an inch from the edge of the red border and then folded over and hand stitched to the back layer of the quilt. It is a fitting name because it literally binds the three layers together.

2.5" wide strips sewn together into an endless mega strip and then ironed in half lengthwise
Sewing the binding to the quilt is relatively simple, but because it's the last big step you're nervous the entire time. I find the binding to be a really clever process – you iron the long strip you've made in half so that the raw edges meet up and then you sew that to the edge of the quilt. This hides that raw edge once you then wrap the binding to the back side of the quilt. At that point you hand stitch it to the back layer. And since you initially ironed it so the raw edges met you are hand stitching the clean edge to the back, eliminating the likelihood of it unraveling. Brilliant! It also is a pretty even edge – 2.5" becomes 1.25" once you've ironed it, then you sew it to the border leaving 1" which then wraps over to the back of the quilt giving approximately a .3" border on the front, side and back of the quilt. Math! Beautiful fabric math! 

Sewing the binding which is flush with the edge of the quilt and has been ironed in half.
My sewing machine has to be on a towel so it doesn't gauge the workspace – don't tell my parent's that I sacrificed their towel! 
The little bit of black binding will get the red to pop and add a nice finishing detail to a crazy quilt (if I do say so myself!)

VoilĂ ! Epic Ecuadorian adventure inspired quilt complete!

And now it's time to sleep!