Orphan Block Guild Challenge
Obviously, it’s been a really long time since I posted. I had intended on taking the summer off from blogging, but I didn’t mean to let it drag so far into fall. However, Hurricane Sandy closed my office on Monday, and since the power at home stayed on, I got some good momentum going on this post before normal life resumed.
Part of what has kept me quiet was the fact that until very recently I literally couldn’t talk about the main project that has occupied me since July: the guild challenge. This year’s theme was orphan blocks. We randomly drew bags that contained anything from a single orphan block to a collection of blocks or precut pieces, and then had to make something new out of the bag’s contents. My bag had just one single block in it, and it had issues:
In the plus column, it’s a 54-40-or-Fight block, which I’ve always liked the looks of but had never made; the basic color palette had promise, since purple and green are two of my favorite colors; and the fact that it was primarily made of solids meant that finding coordinating prints would be relatively simple. HOWEVER, I completely understand why this block ended up an orphan. It’s hand pieced, and the seam allowances were positively enormous, in the 1/2″ to 5/8″ range. There were rust stains, probably from being stored with needles or pins in it, and this block did not have a single 90-degree angle to its name. If I had made a block like this, I would have stopped at one, too. I salute the brave quilter who not only held onto this block for some years, but offered it up for public consumption. And I have to say, it inspired me to make something I’m very proud of, that I never would have conceived of otherwise.
My first thought was to just rip out the seams and use the individual pieces for applique. Heck, with those seam allowances, I certainly would have ended up with plenty of fabric! But ultimately, I decided I really wanted to maintain the sharp points of the original block and riff off of those for my final design.
A brief aside regarding my conflicted relationship with foundation paper piecing. I absolutely love “sharp pointies” designs such as New York Beauty and Mariner’s Compass, and paper piecing definitely seems to be the way to go to achieve satisfactory results with these blocks. However, I really don’t enjoy the process that much. I’ve tried several different books’ and teachers’ methods for paper piecing, I’ve tried several different types of paper foundations, and I still just find it to be tedious. I don’t like sewing on paper because the presser foot slips around, I despise having to trim after each seam, and I HATE having to tear the paper off afterwards. But in order to achieve the results I want with those super-sharp points, it’s what I have to do, and I’ve made peace with that. It will just never be my favorite technique.
I’ve had a book in my collection for many years, “Quilt Mavens: Perfect Paper Piecing” by Deb Karasik and Janet Mednick, whose pictures I have (metaphorically) drooled over for as long as I’ve had it. Up until now, though, I’ve never had occasion to make any of the patterns from it. But strangely enough, their pattern “Spike Redux,” which is essentially a giant Lemoyne Star by way of the Chrysler Building, seemed to echo the sharp points of the 54-40 or Fight block while introducing new design elements. I just changed the color and value distribution to suit myself, and swapped out the corner New York Beauty-style blocks for the orphan block.
I had bought the beautiful, hand-dyed-look, gradated purple and green fabric, “Glacier Lake” by Caryl Bryer Fallert, at least eight years ago. (I found it on the enclosed porch of the old location of Endless Mountains Quiltworks, so it’s been a while.) It was love at first sight, but it’s been one of those “too good to cut” fabrics for me all these years. With this color palette pre-established, I had finally found its showcase in the big setting triangles and curving center pieces. I only had a yard and a half, so I had to cut carefully, and I only have a few scraps left after just barely having enough to make the binding, but it was the perfect fabric for the job. In fact, most of the fabrics for this project came from my stash; the only ones I had to shop for were the pale lavender and pale chartreuse, because I needed lights for value contrast, and these are not shades that naturally occur in my collection. Fortunately, my mini-retreat with Rhonda and Kathy occurred just when I was about to embark on this project, so a shopping trip to Sauder’s did the trick.
The only part of the quilt that I hadn’t completely pre-planned before starting to cut fabric was the corner blocks. Initially I had considered leaving the block intact and just making three more like it (obviously machine pieced and with new fabrics), but I was concerned that wasn’t changing it enough for the spirit of the challenge. Also, having three identical blocks and one “vintage” block would probably tend to draw focus to the odd one out, like that old song from Sesame Street:
So I tried cutting the blocks in half diagonally, although I flipped the orientation after playing around on the design wall. I experienced a great deal of stress when finally rotary cutting that block, because it was the only one I had — normally the worst thing that could happen is that I’d have to recut or repiece, but the stakes were high on this! Plus, those hand-pieced seams really wanted to spring apart until I sewed across them. I had fun making my own new 54-40 or Fight block for the other two corners. I finally used the Tri-Recs ruler I’d bought years ago, and was very happy with the result.
For quilting designs, I mostly fell back on my old standbys: freehand feathers in the Glacier Lake pieces and parallel lines in the paper pieced areas. The stroke of genius was Dan’s, as he came up with the idea to quilt the corner setting triangles as if the piecing continued for complete blocks. Doing the dense pebbling filler pattern not only created contrast in the solid areas, but also gave me some additional peace of mind regarding the hand-pieced blocks, that they wouldn’t be going anywhere.
And all my work and soul-searching was very well rewarded at our guild meeting, when my quilt got the highest number of votes at the big challenge reveal! I got a lovely prize bag and the grateful satisfaction of knowing my work is appreciated by a group of quilters I love and respect so much. Priceless.
For the happy dance, I had to go with Gilles Marini’s Bollywood dance from DWTS All-Stars. It just makes me smile: