Big, colorful quilt with no name

At the beginning of October I started a quilt project, inspired by the oh-so-colorful paintings of Loretta Grayson. I happened upon a photo of her gorgeous colorful crocheting on Facebook, and then went to her blog and finally to photos of her paintings. After a few days of being mesmerized by all that wonderful color I sorted through my fabrics and found the 40 or so brightest, most saturated, near-solid fabrics in my collection. Then I began cutting them up into piles of 4.5-inch squares. The original plan was to assemble the squares into a colorful 8×8 grid, and then superimpose some dark spirals. I started with the warm colors. Then I thought maybe I would make two 8×8 grids (one warm colors, one cool colors), cut away some shapes from one, and reverse applique it to the other. Once the two 8×8 grids were assembled, they looked quite striking sitting next to each other, taking up half my table at the STUDIO. But imagine how more striking they would look if the whole table was filled with color. So I made two more grids, and sewed them together. And then I had a 16×16, 64″ grid, and no more room on the table.

Several people have asked me how I decided which colors to put where. And why are there yellow squares and green squares off where they seem not to belong? I started with a warm quadrant and a cool quadrant. I had sorted my squares chromatically and I formed each quadrant row by row by introducing several adjacent colors into a row and then carrying them through with less frequency into the next several rows. That sounds confusing, but I had an algorithm in mind as I laid out the squares. The quadrants emerged as rough gradients, somewhat in order by hue, with some variation so as to provide more visual interest and some contrast between adjacent squares. I positioned those quadrants diagonally opposite of each other, and then constructed the remaining two quadrants to blend the warm and cool colors. But again, I wanted some contrast and I added some of those unexpected squares to help move the viewer’s eye around the quilt.

I’ve also been asked how I sewed all those squares into rows with the corners all matching up. Actually, not all the corners match up exactly, but many of them do. I do not have the patience to cut everything as exactly as I should, and I’m all for fast piecing techniques that minimize the need for pinning. I chain pieced each row of eight, first in groups of two, then sewed them into groups of four, and then finally the row of eight. The hard part was keeping the squares in order. I solved this problem by marking small numbers in the bottom right corner of each square with a ball point pen. I pressed the seam allowances all in the same direction, reversing the direction on alternating rows.Then I pinned two rows together, butting the seams together, and sewed. I added on rows until I had a quadrant. After all four quadrants were done, joining them together was just more of the same.

When you step back from the quilt, it looks large, bright, and pixelated. Was I thinking pixels when I created it? Not specifically. But I have been ruminating on some privacy-related ideas that involve pixelating faces, so maybe my subconscious was thinking about pixels. There is no hidden meaning in this one (maybe I shouldn’t tell you that, it will spoil the fun!); it is really just about color.

The STUDIO is a large room, but you can’t miss a 64″ square blast of intense, saturated color. So the quilt-in-progress started to attract attention from the various people who wandered into the room. I have had some lovely conversations with various musicians and artists who wandered by. But I was at a loss for how to quilt it. I took a photo of the quilt top, pasted it into a Powerpoint file, and auditioned various quilt patters by drawing lines over the photo. I also brought the quilt top to a Pittsburgh Fiberarts Guild meeting and asked for advice. The guild members suggested circles, swirls, anything to contrast with the regular grid. But in the end I disregarded their advice and decided to quilt straight lines. Lots of straight lines, running in every direction and in different colors. And by hand.

I do know my limits, and hand quilting little itty bitty stitches on anything larger than a handkerchief is probably not something I would have the patience to attempt. But big stitch quilting is less intimidating. I estimated I would need about 2,500 inches of quilting, which I could probably complete in 10-15 hours. So, I made plans for how to tackle this task.

But first I needed to assemble the quilt into a quilt sandwich. For a 64-inch quilt, this requires about 4 yards of fabric for the back. I hate wasting expensive fabric for the back of a wall quilt that will never be seen, so I buy clearance fabric for this purpose — the bolder and gaudier the better. My stock of backing fabric was running low so I ordered some lovely bright fabrics from Hancocks of Peducah at $3.99 a yard. It took a week or so for the fabric to arrive, and I was away for the STUDIO for much of that time anyway.

Finally back at the STUDIO I cut two 66-inch pieces of my wonderful citrus clearance fabric and sewed them together to get a wide enough piece for the quilt backing. Then I unrolled my largest piece of batting and discovered I had previously taken a big chunk out of it and now it was only about 50 inches wide. But I had just pieced the backing, so why not piece the batting as well? I dunno… never tried it, will it work? The Internet came to the rescue and I learned that piecing batting is actually pretty easy, thanks GirlReaction Crafts for a very clear photo and explanation!

Having assembled the quilt sandwich I’ve now begun quilting. Each 64-plus-inch line of stitching is taking me about 15 minutes to execute, using blue painters tape as a guide. After a few lines I switched to wider, two-inch painters tape, which was easier to lay down straight. Twelve lines in, I think this plan is going to work.

Next problem, what to call the quilt. I’m taking suggestions (if Marissa Mayer can crowd source her baby’s name, why not crowdsource naming my quilt?).


Sabbatical ramblings

It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update, and I’ve got a bunch of random things to say… so forgive me as I ramble.

I’m working on a quilt that is bigger than I am now, so no, it is not done yet. It’s been in the works for about a month now, and maybe I will tell you more about it in my next post.

I’ve been distracted by some not-so-sabbatical-conducive activities, like start a new masters program to train privacy engineers. Really that is not the sort of activity one should do on sabbatical. But in order to have a new program start next fall, the program had to get approved and we needed to start recruiting now. Besides work on the curriculum and lining up faculty, there was some political wrangling to do. Now all we need is students. Tell your friends to apply.

I’m trying my best to stay out of my office when it is not Wednesday. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible. But my students are helpfully chastising me whenever they see me in my office on a day other than Wednesday.

The STUDIO organized a bus trip to the World Maker Faire in NYC at the end of September. That seemed like a good sabbatical activity, but the thought of an overnight trip (the bus was leaving Pittsburgh at midnight) with a bus full of students was not appealing. Yes, I did a red-eye to Barcelona earlier this year, and a few hours later put on a suit and spoke in front of an audience. But I flew business class. I may be too old to sleep on a bus and end up remotely coherent the next day. So I decided to spring for a plane ticket, two actually… I brought my 11-year-old son with me too. Getting to the airport in the morning turned out to be an unexpected challenge (who knew that busses stop running 2 hours before the Great Race starts?), but after that we had a great day. Maker Faire is full of cool stuff as far as the eye can see. I was on the lookout for LEDs suitable for sewing into quilts, and I did get some good ideas. Shane was enthralled by all the 3-D printers. We watched battery-powered go-carts race in the rain (the rain ponchos I had stuffed in Shane’s backpack came in handy!), and enjoyed a display of dozens of mentos-laces soda bottles spraying their contents high into the air.

I’ve had my big screen movie debut in the feature-length documentary CODE 2600. In October we hosted the Pittsburgh premier at CMU and I moderated a panel discussion with the filmmaker. I actually have a very small part, but the rest of the movie is good, and I’ve got my own IMDb page now.

I ran my second 5k race, Run Shadyside. I’m really not a runner. I don’t run fast. A nine-year-old neighbor ran faster than I did. I don’t run when it is hot. I don’t run when it is cold. But I ran the whole way, and I finished. I even “trained” for a few weeks beforehand. It is cold now. I probably will not run again until Spring.

Eight weeks into my hair dye experiment, most of the blue had faded, leaving me with streaks of greenish grey hair, with a few bright turquoise streaks peaking out. It is a mystery to me why some strands stayed blue while the rest faded. They do, after all, reside on the same head. I wasn’t thrilled with the faded look, so I headed back to my hair dresser for another round of blue. This time there was no need to bleach my hair so she went straight for the dye, and left it in a really long time in hopes that it might last longer this time around. This resulted in turning the bleached hair a very dark indigo blue and the surrounding brown hair a dark navy, almost black. In low light, my hair looks black, but in the sun there are nice indigo highlights. Now almost two weeks into the second round of blue, it is still very dark.

A really good sabbatical activity at the end of October was chaperoning a fourth-grade field trip on RiverQuest. Normally I don’t have time to spend the day on a field trip, but I’m on sabbatical, so why not? It was a beautiful day on the water, the fall leaves were gorgeous, and the trip was really interesting. I took a lot of photos. The kids learned a lot about the health of the three rivers. They collected water samples and ran various test on the water, collected mud samples and looked for macro invertebrates, and collected plankton samples and tried to ID various plankton and microorganism. It was really a fun day!

Another project, nine years in the making, is a new kitchen for our house. I never liked the kitchen from the time we bought the house. But it took a while to figure out what I wanted instead. After much planning, construction has begun. We have now survived 10 days without a kitchen. There’s a lot you can do with a microwave and a toaster oven, but cooking without a sink is kind of a pain. The contents of our kitchen, pantry, and mudroom have been spread throughout the house.  Our old kitchen has been stripped down to its bare studs. Our contractor was somewhat surprised by how the walls are being held up. A beam expert will advise next week….

People often travel a lot on their sabbaticals, but since this is a staybatical, I’m trying to keep travel to a minimum. I actually made it through most of September and October without leaving Pittsburgh. But at the end of October I headed to Williamstown, MA to give two invited lectures at Williams College. I enjoyed my visit, and got back before Frankestorm arrived. Going to Williams was also a good excuse not to go to Uruguay for a privacy conference.