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.
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).
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.