Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Gilding the Lily, Part 5

As you can see, I finally settled on a traditional layout for my Carolina Lily quilt. Plain alternate blocks give those busy lilies some much needed breathing room. They are now the focal point of the quilt, without overwhelming the whole design.

Those 15 ½” setting squares and 7” borders provide yet another opportunity for choice, this time, of a quilting motif. Will I decide on something tasteful or will I cross the line again, between classic elegance and over embellishment? Wait and see.

I found a gorgeous inspiration quilt at Feathered Fibers (Click the photos for more incredible detail). Everything about this quilt is perfect. In fact, if I had seen it 18 years ago, it would have saved me a lot of grief in the design department! 

Let me know if you can recommend a machine quilter who stitches like that! Thanks.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Gilding the Lily, Part 4

With a betrothal announced, I finally had an incentive to get this quilt finished. As usual though, I couldn’t do it myself. That’s what I get for waiting 18 years!

I’ve mentioned my awesome quilt friends before. They’ve come to my rescue many times, finishing ill-fated projects with their expert needle skills. This time, they were particularly generous and agreed to assemble an entire quilt top for me!

What makes their gesture so poignant is that these are the same friends who made my son this baby quilt 23 years earlier. They’ve known James his whole life and put such love into both quilts.

Here are my dear friends Mary, Sheila and Kathy. Ever modest, they insisted on squatting for this photo, to show off more of the quilt.

And here they are again, striking a more glamorous pose. They'll be furious that I shared this photo, but I just love it. Their personalities really shine through!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Gilding the Lily, Part 3

To make a long story short, I nixed the urn idea and added stems and leaves to the lily pattern. Choosing a less intense red fabric helped reduce the "pulsing" colors. After the ladies in my quilt group made 12 blocks for me, I took a little break.

In fact, I didn’t think of this project again for 5 or 6 years! As I gathered materials for a Gwen Marston Beaver Island Quilt Retreat in 1998, they came to mind. Gwen's retreat topic that year was Four Block Quilts and I figured having an extra set of blocks to play around with might come in handy.

I stitched four lily blocks together and came up with this. The green center portion didn’t appeal to me much, but the new block had potential for creating some interesting secondary patterns.

Had I continued, the resultant quilt might have looked like this. Interesting, yes, but way too busy for my tastes. Besides, it would have required 4 additional blocks, which I just wasn’t up to making.

I guess I hadn't learned my lesson. Once again, I'd taken a simple block and schlocked it up. After picking out the seams, the project got shelved again, until… 12 years later, when our son and his University of North Carolina sweetheart announced their engagement. Could there be a more perfect wedding quilt for this couple than a Carolina Lily?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Gilding the Lily, Part 2

Let me put these Carolina Lily blocks in a clearer context for you. Eighteen years ago, I belonged to a bee group that stitched and swapped complex quilt blocks with one another. When my turn rolled around, I chose the lily pattern and fabrics as previously described.

It was obvious that my dueling red and green fabrics wouldn‘t work. Any sensible person would have stopped right there and replaced one of those colors with a fabric that did work. Not me! I thought if I found an additional fabric that contained both colors, it would somehow bridge the gap and actually calm the block down. 

I carried those swatches with me everywhere, auditioning any fabric that contained a smattering of red and green.

At last, I found a paisley print that matched. "Wow" I thought. "I've hit the jackpot. I've struck gold!" Literally... it was a metallic print. Before I could think twice, I bought the fabric, cut the pieces for the urn and added them to my sample block.

You see where this is going, don’t you? The fabric looked perfect... from 6 inches away, but when it caught the light, the Carolina Lily turned into a gaudy, glitzy, Christmasy fiasco. I had, quite literally, “gilded the lily!” 

Friday, July 2, 2010

Gilding the Lily, Part 1

Do you know that expression, "gild the lily"? It means "an attempt to improve something that is already fine the way it is."  Take note, it will be a recurring theme through the next few posts.

I love classic red and green quilts. You just can’t go wrong with that color combination… or so I thought. This particular block posed plenty of problems for me. I learned many lessons about color and design in the process of turning it into a quilt. Perhaps by sharing, you can learn from my experience.

I took up quilting while living in North Carolina and always intended to honor that by making a Carolina Lily quilt. The pattern is, indeed, based on an actual North Carolina wildflower.

The traditional Carolina Lily block consists of three 4 petaled blooms on long slender stems, but there are many variations. Once I came across this design in Primarily Patchwork by Marjorie Puckett and Gail Giberson, 1975, I looked no further. The full center flower and simple urn-like pot really appealed to me.

By sticking with classic red and green on a white background and limiting myself to solids, I thought fabric selection would be a breeze. Not so! It is actually possible to make mistakes using only two colors of solid fabric.

My first fabric purchase was this beautiful green. I bought the end of the bolt because it was such a good deal and I just knew I’d never find that particular shade again. By purchasing yards of fabric, however, I was seriously invested in using it and making it work, even when it didn’t.

Early red and green quilts were made with Turkey Red fabric, a colorfast, cool red cloth. In my quest for authenticity, my next fabric purchase was a rich, saturated red.

Here’s where things got interesting. What happened when those two fabrics were pieced side by side? It may be hard to see on your computer monitor, but the red and green actually "pulse" or “vibrate” where they meet. This optical illusion occurs when complimentary colors of roughly the same value (brightness or intensity) are placed next to each other. The effect was dizzying, but I thought I could still make it work.