Sunday, August 23, 2015

Fun with Riffs

In my last two posts, I've been hinting at the pleasure I've had reading Kathy Loomis's new book, Pattern-Free Quilting, Riffs on the Rail Fence Block.

I'm also honored that Kathy asked me to provide a review of the book.  Put simply, this is a great book to have on your shelves.  Why?  Let me explain:

1) Kathy is an excellent writer.  It can get dull reading pattern books but Kathy's lively writing style, anecdotes, and examples make it interesting and entertaining.  As I noted in my previous post, I love Kathy's analogy of creative quilting to cooking; recipes evolve with the addition of an ingredient here or the subtraction of another there.  Using the rail fence block as the starting point -- the basic recipe -- we can each modify this traditional pattern so that it transforms into something that's uniquely our own.  Even more advanced quilters can get ideas on how to manipulate an idea to take it to the next level; Kathy makes suggestions throughout on how to up the ante during the design process.   Because of this, I think this would also be a good book for anyone interested in working in a series and exploring how to keep the ideas fresh.  She shares thoughts on
    -- color combinations
    -- fabric selection
    -- shape manipulation
    -- free hand vs. ruler cutting
Yep, plenty there to keep you busy!

2) The book includes many images, both quilts and line drawings, to illustrate the variety of ways blocks can be arranged to different effect.  So often we forget that a 90° rotation creates lots of options.  And this leads to Kathy's mantra of Sew First, Plan Second.  Just create a stack of blocks and see where they take you.  It's liberating, sometimes scary, but always fun.  It is, really, the best way to learn to develop your own voice and to listen to it.

3) Some of Kathy's art quilts are in the gallery and it wasn't until I read the book that it registered that these were all crafted from manipulated rail fence blocks.  I really liked that there was a simple reference chart after each quilt summarizing the elements: how the rail blocks were created, in what arrangement, the color decisions, etc.  For beginners and advanced quilters alike, sometimes we just want to know "How did she do that?"  Kathy's book takes away some of the mystery and makes the creative process accessible to even the most beginning quilter.

After reading the book, I decided to try my hand at a rail fence project.  I started with a group of fabrics my sister had once compiled (she loved the color purple and Japanese-inspired fabrics):

Since I'm on a circle kick I decided to sew blocks in such a way so that, when laid out, they'd resemble a circle.

NO, NO, NO!  This was a mess and probably didn't work because 1) I forgot about the Sew First, Plan Second -- I was trying too hard, and 2) there was too much pattern inherent within the fabrics to look good like this; they didn't mesh well in a "blob".  So I took the blocks off the wall and wondered what to do.  I realized that some of the blocks were, in fact, lovely together; they just needed more breathing room.  Aha!  I cut several blocks apart to make new rail fence units and ultimately arranged them in the basket weave pattern after fiddling with other layouts as well.

This has the makings of a nice table runner that I think I'll set out on
my sister's birthday.  I think that will be a nice tribute to her.

Much better.  Yes, I ended up with a more traditional-looking arrangement of block but, ultimately, my goal was to showcase what my sister had collected and this layout supports that goal.  Forcing the fabric grouping into a preconceived idea wasn't going to work or make me happy.  I had to listen to the fabrics and go from there.  To quote Kathy's book, "I believe that the fabric will let me know whether it’s happy with what I’m doing with it, and give me clues about what I should do next. That’s where the excitement comes from!"(page 9)

Yes, it really is fun to throw planning to the wind and to see where you end up.  Give it a go with Kathy's excellent book as your guide.  Don't worry; you won't end up floundering.  You'll find your own path and that's exciting!!  You can buy the book here.


Norma Schlager said...

Great review and I like what you're doing for the table runner.

Anonymous said...

Karen would love this Viv - Ging

Vivien Zepf said...

Thanks, Ging!