Iris quilt: creating the quilt puzzle pt. 1

Mon May 30, 2011 at 11:11 am in Quilting, WIP | 2 Comments

Last time I talked a little about the iris quilt that I’ve been making for my mom. Since I wasn’t able to talk about it while I was working on it, I thought I’d make a couple of posts walking you through the steps I took in the couple of weeks it took me to do this.


I posted a bit about it last time, but here is the stained glass iris that was the inspiration for this quilt. It hangs in a window on one of my regular walking routes, and I thought it would make a good quilt, just looking at the way that things were broken up into small pieces.



This quilt involved a lot of sketching. If you look at what I have now you can see that I took the idea of the stained glass window and interpreted it, and made my own version of the size I preferred. So the final sketch below was about the 20th version, I believe. There were drafts, different sizes, tracings, and  there were many discards. It started out as a rough sketch and evolved into what you see below.


Finally, there was a finished design. I made five duplicates of the final design:  one for a “progress bar,” one for a guide, one to keep, one to cut up into pattern pieces, and one just in case. I colored two of my sketches so that I could check if to see that all of my leaves were contiguous, and that the stems connected to other stems, etc. No point in having a leaf if it randomly disappears into thin air, right? This might be a somewhat abstract take on an iris, but it should have some realism, right? Plus the coloring helped me determine what fabrics I wanted for the various pieces.

Multiple copies

The image below indicates what happens to the finished sketch when it’s being prepared to be turned into a template. Each piece got marked with a code indicating which fabric it would be cut out of. I had a stack of fabrics from my silk kimono collection that all corresponded to a “P” or “P2″ or “G3″. There were really only three colors in the quilt, but I used four or five greens, two off-whites, and four or five purples. Plus the good thing about the kimono fabrics is that some are reversible, and so I used that as well to indicate the back/front of leaves.

Color chart

The template

It took a long time to cut this up into its component pieces. I cut apart small sections at a time and then immediately pinned the pieces back in their correct configuration on a piece of foam. I referred to my guide sketch a lot in order to get everything back in the right order. Once you have fourteen fourteen individual paper strips in front of you, it’s hard to tell what goes where.

Puzzle pieces

But at last it was done. I left the flowers in one piece. My plan was to piece everything together excepting the flowers, and then piece them afterward and applique them to the background. In the meantime I left the flower patterns uncut so that I could test their positioning on the fabric as I sewed it together. Here’s the final pattern (which, incidentally, due to sewing issues, does not entirely match the final quilt!).

Finished puzzle

OK, I think that’s enough for this time. There was a lot of work to do in drafting this, as you can see, before I ever got to the fabric part of the quilt.

Concave and Convex

Mon May 23, 2011 at 10:47 pm in Quilting, WIP | No Comments

It’s 9:45, and I am about to go to bed. Usually bedtime is more about midnight, but after this past week’s travel extravaganza, I’m just beat.

I went to Iowa and Missouri this past week to see my cousin graduate from high school and visit my mom’s family. I had really quite lovely visits with everyone, though I did miss my uncle and I was unsure if my cousin was around sometimes, since she seems to be training for the Olympic Sleep Team. Despite about 30 hours of travel the trip overall was quite nice, and ended on a really exciting note: the whole state of Missouri was under a tornado warning when we flew out of St. Louis!

I managed to finish the main part of my most recent project a few days ago. It is a small art quilt depicting irises for my mom based on a stained glass window I saw. I can tell you about it now since she’s seen it (though it’s not done). Before I show it to you and talk about it more, I want to talk about piecing curves. The current project depicts flowers and leaves and as such is almost entirely comprised of curved edges. To make it extra difficult, most of the pieces have a width or length that is less than one inch.

Those of you who have joined flat curves before will know what I’m talking about, but if you haven’t you can keep an eye on the green lines in the following pictures. they show the progression of the edge that I’m trying to sew together. This is a stem and a leaf that’s being put together.

In the illustration, on the left you can see the two pieces to be stitched together with right sides of the fabric both facing up. On the right you can see what happens when you turn the left piece over so the right sides are facing each other (for you non-sewers, fabric is sewn together with right sides facing to hide the sewing seam). You can see that the curves aren’t meeting up so well anymore.  So how to sew those two edges together?


What you do is pin that edge together starting with the top or bottom and just work your way to the other end, pinning the edge together in tiny increments. Any increment, if it’s small enough, will provide you with a straight line. If you put in enough pins and tiny straight line increments, the curve will work out. One small piece I sewed had 30 tiny pins in it, and it was only three inches long. Gradually you get all the edges together and the fabric ends up all wrinkly and gathered-looking.  You can see that on the left, below.

You may ask – do I clip my curves? The answer is no. These pieces are about 3/4″ wide and about 6″ long, the seams are 1/4″ and the fabric is silk. If I cut little slits or wedges into the edge to facilitate the curve, my pieces/seams would’ve fallen apart. Normally I do recommend that, though.

On the right you can see that I am slowly sewing the piece together in the direction of the arrows. I had to sew very slowly so the pieces wouldn’t slip, and to make sure that I didn’t sew in an accidental pleat with the excess fabric in the curve. I sew over the pins entirely if necessary just to keep the two pieces I’m sewing stable. Sometimes I take out the pins as I go if I feel their presence is distorting the shape I need. My pieces are so small that even a pin width can make a distinct difference.


Finally the seam is sewn. The I iron it flat on the back side, spreading open the seam with a seam pressing bar. I start at one end and slowly move to the other end with the iron’s tip. It would be a lot easier to do tiny projects like this if I had a Clover mini iron, but alas. I simply must persevere and try not to mess up any of my other seams while ironing flat the new one. Once the back is pressed, I turn it over and press the front as well. I’m always amazed at this point that sewing together a curve has worked out for me.

As you can see in the final picture, the seam is sewn together and flat. On the right is the set of paper templates with seam allowances that I created to guide the cutting and sewing of all these pieces. Theoretically the template and the fabric should look the same when I’m done, and they do!


I can’t say all my seams turned out splendiferously. I went back and ripped and resewed a number of times during this project, usually on curved pieces where the seam allowances made it difficult to tell where exactly the seam should go. I tried to be very careful and consistent with my seam allowances, but I was not always able to be as precise as I would have liked.

So, more on the details of the piece in a couple of days. I’m preparing the backing and embroidery aspects now that the piecing and applique is complete. It looks better than I hoped so far, so I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the finishing touches for the project trying to make sure it’s not over or under done. I may go stare at irises this week for a while and make sure there isn’t something I’m missing. Although this is definitely an abstract depiction of an iris, I want to make sure that it really evokes my subject matter.

Until later!

Had a DIY Moment

Mon Jan 3, 2011 at 11:06 pm in Sewing | 3 Comments

I tend to go to museums to get gifts for my mom. Museum and Historical Site visiting are things she and I like to do together, in addition to eating out and the occasional spot of theater or other cultural activity. So when it came time to pick out her gift, I thought I’d go over to the Asian Art Museum of SF because I don’t think she’s ever been in a museum quite like this before. I figured I could find something there she would like just fine. And I did, a beautiful scarf made of silk kimono fabrics.

And then I had a moment that all crafters will recognize, in which I thought to myself, “You know, I think I could make this myself.” That do-it-yourself urge can pop up at any time. And thus this gift was born (which is prettier than the ones in the store anyway):

Scarf 3

The scarf and pins were made from nine different pieced silk kimono fabrics, beautiful pieces from my collection. Oh yes, silk kimono fabric is now something I’m collecting from various places, a fabric obsession kicked off two years ago when I joined the quarterly club at Ah Kimono. I’m pretty sure they think I’m crazy from the number of times I’ve changed my address since joining. No matter. I will accept this with equanimity if I can continue to receive regular packages of this beautiful fabric.

Scarf 2

The scarf features such fancy things as French seams and asymmetrical folding/piecing, and coordinates shades of purple (my mom’s favorite color) with gray and black. I was going for “elegant.” I won’t say I made it without error, but it’s close. My purpose in the seaming I did was to give some shape and structure to the scarf because the fabrics are nothing if not slippery. It looks best when ironed within an inch of its life, which I wouldn’t do well with, but my mom’s a lot more conscientious than I am about things like ironing.

Scarf 1

I also made two coordinating flower pins out of silk fabric. There are a lot of tutorials out there about this process, but basically you cut out varying sizes of circles from your fabric, lightly singe the edges of your silk circles so they won’t fray too much, then you sew the layers together, pleating and ruffling to create the shape you want. I made covered buttons for mine to finish them off, and sewed clasps on the back. I made the first one as a test and then another one for my mom. Both turned out well, so I got to keep one for me!

So there you are. This is the *only* gift I made this year, because I just couldn’t manage to do any more than that with everything else going on. Sometimes, though, you gotta give in to the DIY urge when it hits.