Posted in quilting

Improvisational Quilting with Joe

I came to learn quilting almost as an afterthought. As I started to get ideas for making fiber objects, I became aware that I lacked the skills I needed to realize them. Thus started my quilting education. There are some things about quilting I like – choosing fabrics, developing my design, adding surface details and actually doing the quilting. The things I dislike are cutting many identical pieces of fabric, squaring up blocks and especially matching corners.

So naturally I am drawn to improvisational piecing. Joe Cunningham (aka Joe the Quilter) and his process were a revelation to me. He offers the promise of freedom. Freedom from all the dull parts of quilting, which leaves more time for fun. The quilt featured at the top of my post is one of his. His website can be found here:

Joe Cunningham has been a professional quilter since 1979. His philosophy is unique. He doesn’t use patterns. He designs out of his head, adjusting things as he goes along. He has no specific end in mind. He explains that as the quilt approaches the finish, he finds out what it will look like. He practices randomness, chance and serendipity. To this end, his method relies on chance from the first cut.

As an example, the class I took with Joe featured a quilt called “Rock the Block.” Here is how to make it:

Step 1: Choose three fabrics. Include one big print. The other two can be prints that don’t necessarily go with the big print. Also choose a solid color that you will cut into narrow strips, which Joe called “sticks.”

Step 2. Cut out a square. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but does need to be bigger than 7 inches.

Step 3. Cut off a corner.

Step 4: Cut out a triangle from one of the other fabrics. Sew it to the square at the cut edge.

Step 5: Cut through the square, across both pieces of fabric.

Step 6: Sew in a stick.

Step 7: Press seams open and trim the block with a 6 and 1/2 inch square ruler.

Repeat steps 2 through 7 until you have enough blocks for the size quilt you want to make. Use all the different combinations of your three fabrics. Your blocks might look like these.

Or they may look entirely un-like these!

Now the fun begins. Lay out your blocks in rows. Move them around, arranging the blocks until they look “pleasing to you.” Lacking a design wall, I laid mine on the floor.

This arrangement is pleasing to me.

So far, this has been painless. Nay, it has been truly pleasurable. I plan to add more yellow blocks around all sides. Some of them will have patterned fabric crumbs and a few “sticks” sewn into them. Some may not.

While I acknowledge there will be corners to sew, I plan to adopt a laisser-faire attitude about the matching part. If this sort of design process is intriguing to you, I suggest you check out Joe the Quilter’s website to see more of his quilts.

Posted in painting

Color wash – The Dark Side

Okay, no Star Wars reference intended – I am talking about painting on a dark solid fabric. This is what I chose to do today. My goal is to make swatches that will represent the night sky in a future fiber object. Here are my chosen fabrics:

The gray solid will be used for most of the work. I chose the white marbled fabric because the black lines are vaguely cloud-like. Here we go:

With the gray fabric pieces cut roughly 13 by 21 inches, I painted one with blue and black and the other with violet, blue and black. I used foam brushes and loose, wavy strokes. Then I blended all the blotches together and lay the fabrics flat to dry. Here they are after drying.

Violet, Blue and Black

The original gray is still visible, but it just shades the colors into a deeper range. I like the brooding, atmospheric effect. Next is the white marbled fabric.

I stuck with the blue paint, but darkened it by mixing in black for a monochromatic color scheme. At the last minute, I decided to scrunch the wet fabric.

And here is the swatch after it has dried.


This looks nothing like a night sky to me. It more resembles fast-moving water rippling over rocks. This piece could inspire a new fiber object for a later day.

Posted in painting

DIY Fabric Colors

Recently I ordered a LOT of Dye-na-Flow fabric paint from Dharma Trading Co. Now that I have the quilting bug, I want to create my own fabrics. I know, there are thousands of beautiful quilt fabrics out there in retail world. But most of them are just not for me. And the ones I do like are kinda pricey. So here I go, making my own.

I had purchased several yards of white and light gray solid fabric specifically for coloring. I have an idea for designing a sunset scene. So today I am coloring the white fabric with warm colors such as yellow, orange, gold, and pink. Here is my swatch fabric where I tested a few combinations.

There’s also a little bit of ecru in the mix.

I plan to use 4 inch strips in my project, so I cut the fabric into 13″ wide pieces. This will yield three strips per piece, and incidentally, be a workable size for painting. Here are the results of today’s work:

Stripes of sunset colors. The orangey stripe should fall into the center of the 4 inch strip.
This gold turned out very well. I added some orange stripes and splatters. The stripe will go across the strips.
This was the tail end piece. It may be enough for one strip. It looks a bit blue in this photo, but I assure you that it dried pale pink.

It was a relaxing and productive afternoon. I look forward to working on the gray fabric. It will be interesting to see how it reacts to the sheer fabric paint.