Filling in the NotQuilt Squares

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This post is part of a series about sewing NotQuilts. If you’re unfamiliar with this method, The NotQuilt series begins here.

I’ve done more sewing lately but not more writing. That means I will have to play catch-up and reconstruct what I did, using my faulty memories and incomplete pictures.

This is the dirty secret of the creative process that pattern instructions don’t show; they cannot document every step as it takes too long to stop after every piece is cut, pinned, or sewn, to take a picture. Similarly, it takes too long to stop sewing and write a sentence or two after each piece is cut, pinned or sewn.

This is why pattern instructions can be so maddening. The person devising the pattern knows what she did, and she assumes that you, the pattern-follower, will be able to fill in the holes and leaps of logic. After all, she knew what she meant to say. She understands how to sew that seam, fit that piece, match that color. Why can’t you?

I wrote instructions in my Navy career, long, long ago, and it is hard to cover every eventuality and possible question without writing a million words and having a million illustrations, and when you write that much, the operator won’t read it anyway. It is just too much.

Which is to say, you can and should expect a few holes in the process here and there.

Progress on the NotQuilt has been slow,with the placing of each piece carefully considered.

Now That We’re Up to Speed

When we last met, I was in the process of sewing down the purple and dark green geometric strips. I needed 16 strips, somehow cut only 15 and, of course, the orientation of the patches didn’t work out as planned. I sewed them down anyway and then had to decide what to do next.

hannah montana

Although she qualifies as a Dragon Princess.

I dug around in the stash, but there was very little purple left. Dragon Princess’s recipient was adamant that I not use any Hannah Montana fabric; my version is full of purple and pink. I have a lot of Hannah Montana scraps from a long-ago project for a nice young lady who adored her in the past and now refuses to hear her name mentioned and denies any interest in the show. This is why buying character fabric can be fraught with peril. When the fad passes, you have cloth that can only be used publicly in an ironic sense. Yet the cloth is still perfectly functional, even if it is intensely passé.

I dug around some more and thought and fretted and in the meantime, no sewing or writing occurred. At last I settled on a white with irises and two kinds of Loony Tunes character fabric. They were mostly purple, I had enough, and Dragon Princess’s recipient didn’t object to Bugs Bunny. He and his compatriots are classics. Then came deciding if they would work in Dragon Princess.

notquilt squares looney tunes

I have plenty of the white with irises. The difficulty with this fabric is the white background. The irises are a velvety deep purple but is there enough purple to read as a dark value from a distance, when cut into narrow rectangles? The Loony Tunes with licensed cartoon characters in yellow stars was a medium purple. It isn’t too dark, but with no white or light colors, it tended to read as a darker purple when laid against the pink of Dragon Princess.

The most problematic fabric was the purple with Tweetie Bird. From a distance, this reads as a medium purple, not much lighter than either the cloth with stars or the irises. Up close, however, when folded over to the size of a Dragon Princess rectangle, the Tweetie Bird fabric doesn’t read as purple at all. It reads as patterned white. Those big white hearts with itty-bitty flowers dominate the fabric. I can see that when cut up into rectangles, the white patterned hearts will ensure that any purple that shows, shows as blotches.

I decided to not use the Tweetie Bird fabric. I looked over Dragon Princess again. I had to add one more purple rectangle to 12 of the squares, giving each of my 25 squares two strips of purple, one per side. All the other squares were done. Of those 12 squares, four of them were horizontal in orientation and eight were vertical. The iris fabric is a very strong vertical and I had plenty. I had much less of the Loony Tunes stars inside stars and its orientation could go either way. It is both pleasant and rare to have a design decision be so easy to make.

The irises got torn, pinned, and sewn in the vertical orientation and the Loony Tunes stars inside stars went in the four remaining horizontal positions. The iris fabric, besides its verticality, has a small repeat and it didn’t matter how I laid it out. All the rectangles looked the same, as long as I cut them the right way with the flowers growing up.

The Loony Tunes stars patches had enough design differences that I wanted to show them to their best advantage. I didn’t have much fabric to work with, and I certainly wasn’t going to waste what I had. Using more Loony Tunes stars than I currently need to means that sometime down the line, I will have to use up that Hannah Montana cloth when I need a purple. She is still in the intensely passé stage of her existence, and thus unusable. In another ten years, however, Hannah will be just another déjà vu design, but not an unattractive one.

My four Loony Tunes patches ended up with one featuring Bugs Bunny, one strip featuring Sylvester, and two that contained both Tweetie Bird and Daffy. I pinned the two Tweetie and Daffy patches so they were as far apart as possible and kitty-corner to each other. The other two Loony tunes patches filled in the other two locations; it didn’t matter which one went where as long as the two matching pieces didn’t line up.

Seeing Pink

notquilt squares fabric

Sorting through pink fabric, looking for the right shade.

Having every outer purple-hued strip sewn down leads to the next step. I have to fill in the blank spots with pinks that are light enough to contrast strongly with what surrounds them. I dug around in the stash. I have plenty of pink fabric to choose from. The difficulty is will any of them contrast strongly enough with what I already have so the Roman stripes read as dark-light-dark-light-dark?

I have to tear, pin, and sew 50 strips in all, 13 sets horizontally and 12 sets vertically. As always, I like to keep my chosen patches symmetrical with each other. I don’t just pick and choose at random, even if it does look that way to a casual observer. The purple strips are fairly regular, but I will admit, I didn’t give much thought to how the final layout would look. I didn’t have much purple fabric to choose from and most of what I did have were in small amounts. If you look carefully, you can see I used quite a variety and some of those fabrics only showed up twice or three times.

I can be much more symmetrical with my pinks as I have a lot more to choose from and the pieces of cloth are bigger. Using more of the same cloth, carefully spread out, gives a unifying rhythm to the fashion face. Your eye, desperate for an underlying design, will pick up on the regular repetition and orderly array. I use symmetry, like a restricted color palette, to control the inherent unruliness of NotQuilt design and Dragon Princess is no exception.

She also continues to frustrate. While digging around, I unearthed two pieces I really like and those are, as you would expect, tiny.

These are my two favorite parts of the pink assortment and I have almost nothing of either one. I have no idea where they came from either. Each of these two pieces is big enough that I can cut one and only one rectangle. The ’60s mod fabric will have to be pieced.

However, I can use these pieces and showcase them. Looking at the picture, you can see that Dragon Princess is arranged in five rows of five squares each. That gives me a square, dead center, with two horizontal bars that need to be filled with something pink. I could use these two patches.

I decided, eventually, to wait on those two pieces. Instead, I began working my way into the center from the outer row of squares, sixteen in all. I chose a white background floral and cut out ten rectangles. I had exactly enough of this fabric to cut that many, after piecing the last two. Fortunately, an itty-bitty, busy pattern motif like this one hides seams. Those ten rectangles let me fill in a sort of border. I sewed down a patch all the way around, in each of the ten outermost bare rectangles that parallels the edge.

The next step is to fill in the inner rectangle, parallel to the busy, white background floral. Again, I want to work my way all around the edge, giving myself a subtle border. The fabric I originally selected for this, a white background with roses, turned out to not work when I laid it on Dragon Princess. Some of those outer squares have the white iris patches and laying one white background floral against another makes the resulting filled in area ‘read’ as a single, lighter unit.

I like the idea of using the white background with roses as it nicely parallels the pattern in the white busy floral. However, it doesn’t work. Therefore, I have to choose something else.

This back and forth is what you don’t see in quilt kit. Somebody made that decision for you. I could sew down the roses on white floral and it would probably look fine. Yet to my eye, it doesn’t seem to work.

I will go back to the stash of pink and lay different pieces on Dragon Princess and see what seems better. I know it should be a light color and I know I will go all the way around. The roses on white will get used since I like the fabric and I have a lot of it. It also has the advantage of reading very light from a distance.

What I may do is fill in a lot of spaces — marching around both the outer row and the inner row of squares – but choosing the bare spots that don’t form a border. The two white background florals could complement each other, yet be separate.

Back and forth, back and forth, and eventually all of Dragon Princess will be covered up, leading us to the narrow outermost border and the binding.