Thursday, 28 February 2019

Public Quilt Photography


I rarely venture into public places to photograph quilts for my blog - I've always tended to be more of a covert, indoor sort of quilt photographer; my own back garden or my parents' house reserved for those times when I've wanted to go wild and step my location up a level (I wonder if you realised you were experiencing the deluxe option on those occasions?).

Writing my book forced me to venture outside, and I found my eyes started to hone in on possible photoshoot locations: old barn doors with peeling paint work, drystone walls, or weathered gate posts, the sight of one appearing like a mirage in the distance causing me to up my pace and race toward it (some would say scuttle, but it's not the style of the dash that's important). I hadn't imagined venturing out with a quilt after my book was finished though, yet it seems a switch has flipped within me, and I've unwittingly joined the league of quilters who take their quilts out into the wild to photograph them. On country walks, I now notice an attractive wall and feel a yearning to bring a quilt back next time to drape over it - possibly a relatively normal thing within our community, but I suspect a distinctly odd thing within the context of the wider world.


Despite my husband being a relaxed accomplice in this activity and our route being largely unpopulated except for sheep, I felt oddly self-conscious - as though I were a burglar stealing photos. If someone was sighted in the distance, I felt compelled to stuff the quilt hastily back into the rucksack and then loiter until the person had passed (possibly worse than just being the oddball taking photos of a quilt - when you're waiting to do something until someone has gone, it is almost impossible not to look shifty).

I suspect it may all feel more normal in summer when a picnic blanket is a legitimate thing to take on a walk, but as there was still snow on the ground in the more shaded places on this walk in January, it would have been hard to carry off...



The photo below is from the same walk - unlike the quilt, Nell could not be packed away into a rucksack and her love of wallowing in mud means people often actually gasp when they see her. It's lovely though, as people only ever seem to gasp in delight, rather than revulsion, and I love seeing how much people love dogs and accept their odd ways. I sometimes wonder where the people are who don't like dogs (so essentially, where was I, pre-Nell? For newer readers, I haven't always loved dogs - you can read about how Nell ended up coming to live with us here). Maybe they're not on muddy walks in the country, but are more pavement-dwelling...


Below is a photo from another walk that feels worth including while on the subject. She is like a hybrid animal, halfway between a dog and a pig, dropping to her stomach to commando crawl through mud the moment she sees it. Initially, I feel the pain of knowing how hard it's going to be to clean her when we get home, but once I've resigned myself to that, it's the most joyful thing to watch. 


For reference, this is what she looks like before she's found a patch of mud. I didn't know it was possible to feel so much love for a creature's jowls, but this photo fills me with fondness for her saggy cheeks.


One day, I might undertake some less covert quilt photography as a social experiment to discover if quilts could actually cause strangers to come and chat in the same way that Nell does...I don't imagine the world loves quilts quite as much as dogs, but who knows what surprises might be in store. Anyway, back to the quilt.

You might remember that I hand-pieced the quilt and wrote a tutorial for making one here. At that point, I hadn't quilted it though. Quilting has never been my strong-point - while I feel like a confident piecer, when it comes to quilting I still feel like a beginner. I'd always imagined my quilting skills would improve with each quilt, but if anything they seem to get worse - I fail to see the quilting pattern that will take the piecing to a new level and lack the skills to execute my quilting with any kind of style, so I consulted Instagram to see if people who have more prowess in this area could help me.


Imagine putting such a question out there and being told by a friend who lives a few streets away that she's written a book exclusively about hexagons, including ways to quilt them, and that she'll pop over the next day to drop it in for you? That actually happened to me, in the form of Carolyn, who has actually written over a dozen books, which is possibly why I'm not familiar with all of them.


This quilting pattern from her book, Hexagon Happenings, was the one that jumped out at us. I don't have any interspersing triangles in my quilt, but we decided I could use the pattern on the hexagons alone.


While Carolyn was here, I asked which thread colour she'd use for the quilting. I'd been expecting her to say something like grey or dark blue, which were the only colours I could imagine sinking in to so many differently coloured prints, but she surprised me by taking an olive green from my thread rack. The minute she laid the thread across the fabrics though, I could see how well it went with them. It didn't blend away, but it seemed to stand out in a way that made the fabrics look even more lovely. For me, it was a fairly mind-blowing moment and it's caused me to look at thread colour slightly differently since, feeling that these details are all things that can be lovely and celebrated in their own right - they don't have to be something that blends away (if you ever get the chance to take a class with Carolyn, leap at it!I feel sure it's these tiny things that are actually the game changers).


With a quilting pattern and a thread colour decided, Carolyn left me to my own devices, and I had the rare experience of diving into something decisively, feeling sure of my choices. The template in Carolyn's book was for a different size of hexagon, so I redrew it on my computer (it would probably be quicker to just mess around with scaling up by different percentages on a photocopier, but I love that kind of laptop work, so was happy to redraw them) and then made a template using a sheet of plastic - it was painstaking work and took a few hours, during which time I variously felt like a surgeon and a psychopath to be brandishing a scalpel so intensely. It turned my head inside-out deciding which bits of plastic to leave joined so that the template would hold together even once the quilting lines had been cut out, but I eventually got there and was pretty pleased with my work!


I transferred the lines onto the quilt about three columns at a time using a Sewline pencil filled with ceramic leads. I switched between leads to mark the fabric, using a mixture of pink, white and green - whichever showed up best on the fabric. The action of the quilt rubbing against itself seemed to remove the lines at just the right moment and I needed to do very little work to remove them, but equally they stayed long enough for me to quilt over them. They don't rub off everything though, so it's worth exercising some caution and testing them on your fabric first if you're going to use them.

I then played around with free-motioning the design on some offcuts, which was fairly disastrous, so in the end I kept the feed dogs raised and used a regular foot (my machine has integrated dual feed, so I don't need a separate walking foot). For such a twisty-turny pattern, it actually worked surprisingly well and, incredibly, I also really enjoyed doing it (incredibly because I often find machine sewing quite dull, as I don't like the way it ties me to one location).


I'm now going to put on my boasting hat, so brace yourself. I think such a thing is meant to be reserved for the arrival of grandchildren, but I feel compelled to put it on for my first-born nicely quilted quilt, and say that I think I might have gone from utterly useless to pro in one quilt under Carolyn's expert tuition. If I never manage to quilt anything as nicely again, I'm fine with that, because this can be my one shining example of Quilting That Actually Looked Good. I love everything about it - I like how it's softened the columns of hexagons; how it's more complex than anything I've done before; how there aren't too many obvious mistakes; and how the olive green thread looks like a perfect but unexpected choice.


Here's another photo of it from a different angle.


It should be said at this point that I somehow messed up my binding - I don't know how, as I've never done this before, but it's slightly wider on the back than the front, which drives me nuts and I think I may have to unpick it and redo it - you'll note that the boasting hat has now been taken off: pride, fall. Whatever. (As an aside, isn't pride comes before the fall the most loathsome expression - it's the kind of saying that sucks the joy out of life. I'm pretty sure I can remember Rachel Lynde saying it in Anne of Green Gables and it feeling like a prime example of what a sourpuss she was, although I think she eventually redeemed herself. I would never think of that expression in relation to anyone else, so I'm unsure why I allowed Rachel Lyndeishness to pop into my head for myself just then).


This is my favourite photo of my quilt, taken as a gust of wind made it billow out, but thankfully it was spared from the mud patch below.

On flu-recovery update: I was off the sofa and had two days where I returned to normal day-to-day activities, which was really lovely, but I now have an annoying cough and feel out of breath doing even the simplest things, as well as looking like someone has sucked all the colour out of my cheeks and replaced it with something grey. Will I ever be well and look normal again, I wonder? A friend left a stash of treats on my doorstep to aid recovery and thankfully I've found I've been able to nibble on them without having to use a nebuliser though. Phew.

Do let me know your thoughts on public quilt photography, and also dogs vs quilts if you have any insight with the general non-quilting public, or your own thoughts on the matter.

Florence x

27 comments:

  1. Your quilting is lovely! I would never have thought to do cables in the hexagons, just brilliant! How fortunate you are to have a published author so handy. I haven't ventured further than my backyard to photograph quilts, although I live in a community that is a mile and a half square which has 22 lakes, so maybe I should when the weather warms! Love your pup, she's beautiful.

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    1. Thank you :)

      Twenty two lakes! It sounds like you've got some incredible potential quilt shots there. I'm now intrigued by what part of the world you live in and also whether you take rowing boats out on the lakes?

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  2. Lovely quilting! My binding often is wider on the back than the front, and I just don't think it matters that much. :-)

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    1. Thank you and that's reassuring to know. When I looked at my other quilts after writing that, I realised that mine are too, but it's normally just a little difference - on this quilt the front has a 1/4" binding and the back has a 1/2" binding, which is a bit more of a difference than I usually have, so feels odd. Maybe I should live with it a bit longer...

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  3. A beautiful choice of quilting pattern! The stitching on the hexagons looks great. Your dog is TOO adorable. ;0)

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  4. Oh be still my beating heart - I am in love with Nell. That's possibly quite ludicrous emotion talking, because I had to say good-bye to my dearest Daisy this week and my heart is utterly broken, but truly, your gorgeous Mud Magnet looks like such a happy girl.

    There is no "quilt vs. dog" contest - I have spent the last six years making quilts with fleece backs because my dog didn't like the feel of cotton!

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    1. Oh Jayne, I'm so sorry to hear about Daisy and how heartbroken you are. I'm sending so many cuddles your way.

      I always feel sad when I think of how short a time we get to spend with a dog. I saw this diagram called 'Lines of Closeness' recently, and the one for a dog made me gulp - it's so true. It's such a simple illustration, but seems to show how closely we share our lives with them and also, I think, illustrates why it hurts so much when we lose them. I'm so sorry you're carrying that pain right now. https://www.oliviaderecat.com/shop/closeness-lines-print

      That's incredibly sweet - how did you discover Daisy didn't like cotton?

      x

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    2. Simple - If I lay a cotton backed quilt down she'd only go on it under duress. If I lay a fleece backed quilt with the 'soft' side up she'd be straight on it and refuse to move! 🐾

      Thank you for your kind words :-)

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  5. Love both dogs and quilts and would speak to you should you have either. But this is a bit of a self selected group here i also am extremely self conscious about quilt photos in the wild. Luckily there is a mural next door so at least its quick! Your quilting is lovely and i expect just the beginning!

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    1. Do you have a blog or are you on Instagram, Cheryl? I'd love to see the mural that you photograph your quilts beside. And thank you. x

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  6. I also was not a dog person until my annoying handsome difficult and loving rescue dog came into our lives after a terrible year of bereavement. He is the best thing ever and I love him . Also he is picky about what he lies on with a preference for cashmere blankets a true prince among dogs !

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    1. I cannot reach you privately Nicola, but wanted to say how much your comment about cashmere blankets made me smile. Do you have a blog of your own?

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    2. Oh, I love that he's a prince among dogs! And I'm so pleased for you that he was such a wonderful addition to your life. x

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  7. What wonderful advice from Carolyn. The olive green is perfect! Love the curved quilting too, so effective. My binding is usually wider on the reverse of the quilt, still looks super neat.

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    1. Isn't it! She's wonderful.

      Someone else said the same above and it's really reassuring and is making me think I may leave it. When I went back and looked, all my other quilts do actually have a slightly wider binding on the back (probably to cover the stitches from the front), but on this one the front is 1/4" wide and the back is 1/2" wide, so it's a more noticeable difference than usual. It would be maddening to unpick it though, as it is actually quite a neat, crisp binding (not true of all my quilts!). x

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  8. I have an unfinished hexie quilt, similar to the one in Carolyn’s picture with diamonds in between and this post has inspired me to get it finished. I love the cable quilting, you are right to be so proud but I think I know why we are reluctant to photograph our babies, sorry quilts in publics. We are proud of them but we also see the flaws which nobody else can see e.g. you point out your binding. We might be afraid of someone who isn’t of the quilting world seeing us and thinking or even saying that our quilt is not photo worthy. We are insecure creatures but we shouldn’t be, we should be proud of the talents we have and celebrate being able to create something beautiful, and I didn’t say ‘perfect’ I said beautiful. So maybe we should all make a point of being more public with our quilts and I’m sure there will be no negative ninnies but people who’s day will be brightened from seeing them.

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    1. Oh, I'm so pleased seeing that has helped with your own quilt dilemma - it's a really excellent book.

      That's so true - you've perfectly summed up what's probably at the heart of it - there's definitely an element of worrying an onlooker might think 'is that quilt really worthy of such an ostentatious photography session?'

      Thank you for your lovely comment, Liz. x

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  9. I know just what you mean about going public with a quilt. I took my portable quilt stand, that is my husband, onto the common to take rural photos of my recent quilt. He complained loudly about the position I needed from him to ensure no hands, head or feet showed in the photo. I laughed so much though and local dog walkers giggled as they went by!

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    1. Yes, to the giggling! I also couldn't stop laughing (partly out of nervousness!). That's so funny - it sounds like you were somewhere slightly more populated and it's a wonderful image. I've just visited your blog and seen the wonderful quilt in question too :)

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  10. Quilts and dogs, what's not to like? I love this post and am inspired to take my quilts outside to photograph. Your cable quilting is fabulous and goes so well with the hexagons. How fortuitous to have Carolyn so close by! I am with the others - don't worry about the binding being different on the front and back.

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    1. I'm so pleased it's had that effect!

      Yes, I'm so lucky to have Carolyn close by - we only realised we were a few years ago when she recognised some old Victorian floor tiles outside a shop in a photo I posted on Instagram - a funny coincidence.

      And thank you - I think I'm now going to leave it as it is :)

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  11. This is fabulous quilting. Although I enjoy making the quilt tops I loathe the actual quilting and have always stuck to straight line quilting. I am very inspired by what you have achieved though and just may try something different next time. x

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    1. Me too - it's my least favourite part of quilt making, but this has transformed it for me (at least temporarily, but hopefully in the long term!). Good luck with finding something that has the same effect for you. x

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  12. You are such a prolific quilter!!! It seems only a while ago I was reading the post about that quilt and I see it now complete and beautiful!! Such a lovely quilt and a great dog, I am sure she would make great friends with my LorcaπŸ’“πŸ’•πŸ’ž

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    1. I'm delighted to be thought of as prolific as I always see the number of quilts others make and feel slow by comparison.

      I'm sure they would. That's a lovely name, by the way :)

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  13. Oh my gosh, this is incredible!! Your colour combinations are so sublime. So inspirational!

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Florence x

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