This project has been with me for quite a while and we have fostered one of those dysfunctional relationships, much like a bad boyfriend with whom one lingers far beyond the natural end.

Grab a cuppa joe and relive the 2.75 years of oy with me here—indulgently compiled all in one place here from blog, flickr and journal entries.

Or, you know, just scroll through to see the photos for fun.

I started this quilt on April 10, 2010 and it was actually the reason I started this blog. Telling the Story of George would take more space than a flickr post can reasonably manage. It took a few months to get up and running…so the early posts were retrospective in style.

  • July 11, 2010:

As I descended into my happy place yesterday, sewing just based on instinct, I realized that I could blog about the process of coming up with this design. It is a bit afield from the story-lines of the Stars of Insanity and the Scraptacularity tutorials that we were pursuing a couple of weeks ago, but I happen to be captivated once again by a project I began back in April. It’s been sitting dormant for a couple of months and new inspiration struck while working on those stars and scraps in the interim.

I returned to this project because I am back at work full-time and I needed a way to relax in the evenings. I couldn’t take photos for Scraptacular tutorials in the dark, so I had to spend time on something else.

My work life is characterized by constant deep concentration while journeying through undiscovered country (in research) but also constructing extremely careful coherent explanations while treading on well-worn paths. It is quite unacceptable to bounce around following whims in those endeavors, although that is my natural predilection. So when it comes to crafting, I am easily distracted and I will allow myself to put a current project aside in order to explore new ideas bubbling up from time to time. I keep notes and photo records of projects so that it is easy to pick up an old project again later. What’s great about this current project is that its design process requires constant shifts in concentration and inspiration.

And so for now I shall blog daily about the story of making this patchwork. It is still in-progress. It is also currently unnamed, but for ease of discussion, we shall call him “George.”

George is being built out of precision-pieced blocks, but in an improvisational style. Hopefully, what that means will become clearer as we go along. Each day I’ll tell you about a particular decision point, my thoughts about options and why I made the choice that I made. There will be some poor choices, some disappointments and a few moments of joy (for me, at least). And maybe this’ll be interesting to you?

  • July 12, 2010:

We quilters love love love fabric. I admit to wanting to marry cotton. No, really. I love the entire tactile experience of working with cotton in patchwork and handquilting. So when it comes to selecting fabrics for quilts, I consider colors, prints and texture.

Which hues, tones, and color combos to use is a normal set of early decisions along with scale(s) of prints. I generally make those choices with balance in mind and tend to second-guess myself. Those decisions should be more of a gut instinct about what the patchworker appreciates rather than there being a formula we are all required to apply. And I feel quite free to change my mind midway into a project if things just aren’t working out.

I knew that I wanted George to be crisp. That was the only idea in my mind. So primarily solids seemed the way to go in order to emphasize angularity in design. Because I was in the middle of piecing the blocks of this quilt top at the time,

I chose to stick with the same tonal range of blues; these are the Gee’s Bend semisolid blues made by Windham. The leftover piece of the orange/yellow dots could provide some small bit(s) of contrast just for fun.

I only needed to add a neutral. And this is where the texture could be achieved. When sticking to regular quilting cottons, Kona’s snow or white are standard go-to choices. But this nascent idea required something else: flour sacking. It is an unbleached natural loose-weave cotton cloth that is only slightly heavier than Kona and costs half as much. I buy it by the ton and pre-shrink a few yards at a time to keep it ready to go in the stash. Here you can see the texture before (right) and after (left) shrinkage.

In its raw state, this flour sacking is the definition of crisp and has served me well in the past. It has a rustic hand that just gets softer and softer over time.

White on White: final plan + swatch

I made a full-size white-on-white log cabin quilt with unshrunk flour sacking. This photo shows the swatch I made in order to calculate the expected shrinkage (which was 20%, by the way). I think this photo gives a better sense for the amount/type of texture to expect. Even when pre-shrunk before being pieced, the fabric will shrink a tiny bit more in the first wash of the resulting quilt to give that vintage-like wrinkly quilt goodness.

  • July 13, 2010:

So we really have to call this The Part That Made Me Cry

One Crafturday morning back in April I was staring at the cover of a Kaffe Fassett book and decided that I wanted to make a quick mini-quilt using some of his acute triangles. Now I don’t know how to extract patterns from books (scanner? copier? I don’t own either at home). So I drafted my own paper-piecing pattern freehand using the drawing functions in Word and printed out a few squares. That was simple.

But when I cut the fabrics, I cut them all out at once and cut them rather precisely to fit the printed triangles (with 0.25″ seam allowance added) and with little room for placement error. This was a big mistake.

It is really hard to judge those sharp angles and get the exact offset needed for good coverage. So I ended up sewing and resewing every single triangle in those nine squares because I didn’t want to waste all those precut wacky acute-angle triangles. And I didn’t want to put this aside because I knew I’d never come back to finish it if I had enough time to think about the insanity of spending a Saturday working on something so frustrating.

Thank goodness I committed myself to making only nine of these little blocks anyway. Because by the time I got to block number six I really thought that I’d have the technique down and it would just zip along. But no. No, I couldn’t get it right. I never got it right on the first try.

And I cried. I cried on Crafturday. It was a very dark day.

But the patchwork? I couldn’t help loving it. George was going to be like one of those kinds of boyfriends…

  • July 14, 2010:

So…even though George made me cry, I still loved him and I still wanted that miniquilt.

The patchwork spikes looked a little spare for a miniquilt. He needed a border. So why not use some more sawtooth?

Ouch!: piecing done?

I paper-pieced these isosceles right triangles quickly and smoothly and regained my spirit and confidence. And I started musing about an all-triangle precision-pieced full-sized quilt, built in rounds of blocks of varying sizes.

Flying geese would be next. I thought, ” I could paper-piece those, too!” That enthusiasm died off quickly once the issues with coverage started and the tears welled-up again. I continued on and made enough flying geese for a potholder.

And I put George in time-out for a few months. He needed to learn a lesson.

  • July 15, 2010:

This is really The Part That’s Not About George.

Too many paper-piecing failures led me to punish George, but it really is the case that I have to let improvisational projects marinate for some time before I can confidently move on. Often the projects I do in the interim end up informing the design upon return. And George was no different.

I told George that we really needed a break on April 11, 2010. And that’s when I proceeded to canoodle with other projects.

I made 21 bee blocks, finished 4 miniquilts, crocheted quite a few hexagons, finished long-standing quilt works-in-progress and started more new quilt projects, worked on seekrit projects, and played around with stars.

Next thing I know, on July 6, 2010, George sneaks up on me. I hear him whispering in my ear. He wants to try getting back together and “perhaps we can seal the deal with some stars?”

He always knew the right thing to say. The star-struck love affair begins (again?).

  • July 20, 2010:

So…when last we saw George, he and I were officially on a break. That was back in April.

But then I got all caught up in some scrappy star insanity in July and George snuck up on me to ask me to take him back. He always knew what to say to make me weak in the knees; he’s irresistible.

George’s new adornment is a bit more scrappy than the theme of the quilt thus far but nears more the scrappiness of the stars I’d been canoodling with.

four more

There are two decisions that had to happen here. First, everything is to be precision pieced in this design, but the side-lengths kept coming out rather odd. I chose just to add a strip of flour sacking to enlarge the piece to an easily divisible size. I would come to regret this decision, but there didn’t seem to be any other efficient option.

the morning after.

Second, what to do now? Should there be a full round of these stars or just on two sides? That is, should the construction going forward be a full log cabin or half log cabin? Overall balance is essential, but it seems like one could achieve that in many ways.

Inspiration was about to come out of the blue.

  • July 21, 2010:

So…what do you do when your measurements are just a little “off”?

Last time I mentioned that the patchwork dimensions kept turning out to be strange measurements that weren’t easily divided into blocks of usual sizes and I compensated by just adding strips of flour sacking on two sides of the quilt.

I then spent many nights awake worrying about what to do to continue this quilt. Should I just keep augmenting with solids to make a log cabin of solid logs on one side and pieced blocks on the other side? Or instead, should I do the same, but rotate the solids and blocks around? These two skinny strips of flour sacking really put me into a tailspin: both of these options seemed like they’d be even bigger mistakes.

I considered doing some rows of square-in-square blocks to use instead of solid strips. But I was much too lazy to do that on that weekend. It might end up happening later, but just not now.

Convinced that this was an insurmountable problem, I really did consider just ending the process because of it.

And then I got distracted by some stars I made for a virtual bee. The Ohio Star block is really light and airy and would make the perfect balance for those dense stars already on George. I immediately knew I needed some of these stars going on and hoped that a solution to the augmentation problem might come to me while piecing the stars.

Ohio stars

  • July 22, 2010:

I made eleven 5″ Ohio star blocks in a few days over a quiet weekend. It is a super fun, almost foolproof block in which it is easy to get nice sharp points if one takes basic care in piecing.

nine more

But George wasn’t quite big enough to attach them yet and inspiration for a solution hadn’t yet struck. I really wanted to see the new stars in place quickly, so I just impulsively began piecing some 2.5″ square bricks in random order without any white ones. The effect was that it immediately created a dark/heavy side of the quilt. It was a mistake not to use a few squares of flour sacking to lighten up the strips.

i weep because i love too much.

In hindsight, this creates a nice different sort of balance, if I say so myself, but it’s gonna be necessary to maintain the distribution of weight to one side. It won’t be good to have that brick wall stand out too much.

  • July 23, 2010:

Once George got out of balance with that impulsive brick wall I immediately knew that he needed a 4-sided round of something simple and open/non-dense. Why not use some of those little crosses seen all over the place?

+ the next idea +

This was, by far, the easiest part of this design to imagine and execute.

+++

I just wish that I had, umm, carefully measured so that the patchwork would have turned out a “natural” length.

the crosses

But this just means an opportunity to augment again and to echo that brick wall before one more round of blocks. Should there be more stars? Bigger stars?
.
.

about a year later
.

  • June 28, 2011:

Here’s an update on what I’m doing craft-wise. Sorry that I couldn’t edit out all the angst. I tried.

…(ETA: edited out the non-George angst)…

And I have resurrected George. The precision sewing he requires is slow and tedious, but I think at least the patchwork can be finished in the next few months. Here he is adorned with a brand new round of stars.

George, growing

To my eye, George is quite handsome and I fret quite a bit; I worry that one poor choice will wreck him. In particular, as the patchwork gets closer to being finished, I am anxious about the quilting. What design would be appropriate? Any ideas?

All in all, I must say: Hooray for monogamish-ness! But I’ll try not to bore you with too many shots of the incremental progress.

  • June 30, 2011:

Although George had a different original intent (chronicled here), he ultimately follows in the 18th century tradition of medallion quilts. Any worthwhile book on quilt history will include a section on this construction and its strong connection to the early printing of toiles, but there are few online sources that present the concept well. Take a moment and read up on them briefly here and view the Google image gallery to get the idea.

These are two examples that I love. The one on the left was made in 1840 and is in the Virginia Quilt Museum, while the one on the right is a contemporary design by Kim McLean.

medallion examples

I’ve been studying the examples in my own library to understand scale, balance and quilting choices. And I finally decided how to finish up the patchwork and chose a traditional quilting design that is also “modern”–namely, crosshatching.

prepped

Assembly line precision piecing of lots of identical blocks is so incredibly not how I like to work these days. Many of my choices in the inner rounds lent themselves well to this in that I didn’t have to make full rounds of the same blocks very often; I could change over to a different one just about when I got bored. This final border of square-in-square will go all the way around and it’s taxing my patience to sew all 48 of those identical blocks.

a step back

Of course, I did audition the border before committing to it. I don’t have a design wall–the pros and cons of which we should discuss sometime–and I actually like some of the resulting “design blindness” because it keeps me from over-thinking. But these after-the-fact photos tend to bring me enough perspective and sometimes comfort.

  • July 2, 2011:

Finally made all those square-in-square blocks, but it’s going to take a while for me to want to square them up. oy.

squares!
.
.
more than 1.5 years later
.

  • November 25, 2012:

George’s basted sandwich sausage is moderately huge.

George's sausage is moderately huge.

  • December 12, 2012

George abandoned yet again for new shiny projects.

  • December 22, 2012:

George is a poopy-headed pain in the butt. Been screaming expletives all morning.

F*ck you, George! I gave him two years at the prime of my life and what does he do? He bites me in the ass.

George is a fuckhead!

Yes, a tuck. A fucking tuck.

But it’s just a tuck of 3 inches of the backing (not the batting) on the back and if you squint, it kinda obscures in the print of the backing. Right?

Fuck it. You win, George.

  • December 23, 2012:

Much in our dysfunctional style, that handsome rake lured me back in with a wink and a smile. Here he is pre-bath.

George!

And after a bath George is perfectly crispy-crunchy crinkled. Even his tuck–like a sexy scar on a hero–shrank up nicely, blends in well on the back, and is a reminder of our struggle. And now all I want to do is touch George all day.

George!

He’s a better boyfriend since we can finally sleep together and…of course, snuggle.

And really that’s all I ever wanted.

George!

.

The Details

Pattern: i call this “precision improv”
Materials: flour sacking, three Gee’s Bend handdyed blues, orange polka dot scraps; osnaburg for binding; wide print for backing
Techniques: machined pieced; machine quilted; and hand-bound
Finished size: 56″ square
Started: April 10, 2010
Finished: December 23, 2012