"On the plains of Oklahoma, with a windshield sunset in your eyes like a watercolor painted sky, you'd think heavens doors have opened."
Fly Over States

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Great Barn Quilt Experiment

Back in January, when I was still actively unpacking from the move, I took the above photo on a windy day (note the boxes flying through the yard).  I have been wanting to try my hand at a landscape/art quilt and just love the barn so decided to use this photo as a guide.  I've been reading books by Ruth McDowell for ideas on how to do it.  I have her books Art & Inspirations, Piecing Workshop and Pieced Flowers

My original  thought had been to paper piece it, primarily because it is a technique I'm familiar with.  So using photoshop elements, I converted it to a sketch and reversed the image.  I then took it down to be blown up at the FedEx (formally Kinkos) store.  They blew it up to 26 X 34 inches and charged me about $5.00.

I swiftly decided that for this project, paper piecing was more trouble than it was worth.  The lines are straight, for the most part, and it is so geometric that using the "freezer paper method" (see below) made better sense.  I came to this conclusion after I'd already reversed the photo and was back home so I had to scratch my head on how to create a pattern that would have it going back the proper way.  I knew that having it reversed would make me nuts, over time, not that anyone else would notice it.
McDowell's method has you put the underlying pattern (my photocopy) on a light box or window.  You then trace the pattern onto the shiny side of freezer with a fine lined sharpie.  I like her instructions - the next step, she says repeatedly - is PUT THE SHARPIE AWAY.  I suspect there is a story there.  

I could have created an original pattern with the lines already marked before taking it to the copy place to enlarge but didn't feel confident that I would be able to see it well enough to do that before it was larger. Also, since I only had one large copy, I didn't dare draw my pattern lines on it. I waited to create the stitch lines on the freezer paper. That way, if I screwed up, I could simply get more freezer paper and start over at that step.  I am too cheap to want to go back down and pay another $5.00 for an enlargement. 

So what I did was tape the raw photocopy to the window (actually, two windows as the sun moved in the sky.  It was in my east facing window in the morning and on the north window at midday. 

According to the McDowel instructions, you tape together freezer paper (extra large size, in my case) and trace the pattern to the shiny side.  I modified those instructions.  Instead of tracing the pattern to the shiny side, I traced it to the dull (paper) side.  That way, when I flipped it over to press to the back of the fabric (a subsequent step), the emerging picture, when constructed, is reversed from the pattern (or in my case, back to the preferred orientation). 

I left off the flying boxes from the original photo.

McDowell recommends dividing the pattern into workable sections, marked with a highlighter.  I used different color highlighters and labeled the sections.  I tried to keep straight lines to make stitching smoother. 

I also wrote in what the pieces were (barn side, roof top, tree1, sky, etc.).  

To select the fabric, I went through my stash, both in the house and in the barn.  That was fun.  I love selecting fabric and heaven knows I have the equivalent of a quilt shop here at home. 

Selecting fabrics for an art quilt, I have noticed, is quite different than traditional quilt shop fabrics.  I was looking for shade and value rather than something pretty.  I actually had some red barn fabric that showed the boads and the colors were absolutely perfect.  I rejected it because the boards on the barn were not the right size/scale - too big.  It would have looked odd, seems to me.  I know I can't get very close, at all, to making the art quilt look like a photo.  I lack the skill.  Better for me, I think, to go for an idea than try to make it look "real."  The use of the barn boards would have been like a poorly drawn portrait rather than something more abstract.  I pinned the legend and section numbers 9A2, J1, J2, L6, etc.) on each fabric piece. 

Here is part of the pattern:  The strange lines are drawn to create places for straight stitches.  I'll be winging it on some of the smaller pieces and plan to simply add edges on some of the sections - for instance, the barn roof is white on the very edge.  I'll just add a white fabric edge before attaching the sections.  It is too thin to cut out a pattern. 
I struggled with the trees.  I tried creating a paper pieced pattern for that section, first.  It looked like a lot of work for a less-than-worth-it results.  I ended up going for symbolic trees (they look like a child's pointed mountains).  I decided the overall shape and colors were more important than showing individual branches.  Moreover, I figured I could find some fabric that suggested texture.  Had it been a different kind of tree or a single tree I think I would have approached it differently.  But for a herd of Cedars, I think this will work better.  I just made up the trees and actually added a couple simply because I had some fabric I wanted to use. 
If you look, you'll see little slash marks between the marked pieces. That is to help me be able to line them up when I stitch it back together.

I took a lot of pictures of the intact pattern because I figured when I cut it up, I'd lose track of where the pieces go.   I circled around like a vulture for several days, resisting cutting up the pattern.  After all that work, the idea of putting scissors to it (actually, I used my pink rotary cutter) made me so anxious that I found other things to do - like my taxes, which tells you how much that stressed me.   

I sat out in the barn with no heat turned on, going through files in 41 degree temperature, warming my fingers over a candle.  That's avoidance, baby!! (I could have turned on the heat but I am too cheap).  Engineer Husband found out I was out there in the cold and fussed at me.  So did my father-in-law.  You'd think they would admire my strength, stoicism and endurance, but no.  Treated like a child, I was.  I am amazed I didn't get scolded for having an open flame, although come to think of it, Husband said he had to check something and scurried out to the barn right after I came in and mentioned I'd had one going while I was out there. 

Here is a picture of the pattern before cutting:
If you look at the original photo, the sky is deep blue with little gradation in color.  My original thought was to simply use blue fabric - I figured that would make the trees and the roof line "pop" and still do justice to the lovely, sunny day.  And it would be an honest representation of the photo.  Seemed like an easy, obvious choice. 

My second thought was to use some blue batik with a suggestion of clouds, simply because I have it and it is pretty.  Afterall, who knows, besides me and you, that it was a clear day?

My current thought, even though I know it may give my darling engineer husband indigestion,  is to make the background multiple colors, as suggested by McDowell.   Here are some snippets of some of her quilts to show what I mean:
If I am going for a representative quilt, I might as well have fun with it.

Here is another photo of the pattern.  When I finally got around to cutting it, I only did the first section and left the rest of it, intact.  That was slightly less terrifying. 
The pattern on the freezer paper:
I started at the bottom of the pattern and cut out the pieces of that section. 
Next, I pressed the individual fabrics I needed for that section (keeping the legend handy). 

After that, I set the pattern pieces, shiny side down, on the wrong side of the fabric and pressed with a warm iron.  That makes it stick but can be easily removed and readjusted, if needed.  I was a bit worried that this would get ink on my iron because I'd drawn on the dull rather than shiny side but it didn't cause a problem.

After that, I used my rotary cutter and add-a-quarter-inch ruler that I use for paper piecing to add the seam allowance. 

Here are the pieces from the first section.  I've flipped over a couple in this picture so you can see the wax paper patterns.  
I've read about the wax paper method of template piecing but haven't used it before this.  I loved it and will use it, again, even for traditional quilts.  It was easy as pie once I figured out how to line up the seams.  I won't try to explain how I did that because it was more practice and getting the hang of it than technique. 

Here are the first few pieces stitched together:
When I get up the nerve, I will start on the second section.  I suspect it will be a bit more of a challenge because no doubt the first section that it needs to line up with will have shifted, slightly.

While I am thinking about it, I want to give a shout out to a line of fabric by Northcott called Stonehenge.  I love it although it certainly isn't "pretty" in the traditional sense.   I will end up using some of that line on this project.   I also have fallen in love with Artisan Batiks - Patina Handpaints.

The following is a sunset from the front of the house.  I frequently catch our sunrises but for some reason, am rarely out front looking to the west at dusk.  This is to show that there is beauty at dawn and dusk. 
The trees are just about ready to explode into blossoms and my daffodils buds are all over the place.  They generally bloom right at St. Patrick's Day in Oklahoma so they are right on schedule.
Happy Quilting,

Penny, Evelyn and Pearl


Miriam said...

Wow!!! I can't wait to watch your progress with the barn quilt.

Beautiful sunset photographs.

Suzanne Kistler said...

I love your barn quilt! I'm a HUGE fan of Ruth's. If you'd like to see what her recent students have been up to, DelQuilts (at blogspot.com) has a week's worth of photos posted. Her piecing method is AMAZING - and you seem to have taken to it like that proverbial duck.

I can't wait to see your next update!

Dee said...

I'm very interested to see more of your quilt. I love what you're doing so far!