Monday 27 February 2017

On quilt shows and ribbons...

If you follow me on social media, you are probably aware that one of my quilts - Scattered - won a ribbon at QuiltCon over the weekend. I can't express how amazing, exciting and mind blowing this is for me. Just getting a quilt juried into the show is quite an achievement in my mind, so to win third place in the Improvisation category kinda blows my mind. I've recieved SO many lovely messages and comments about my quilt, and loads of people have been sharing it on Instagram which is such a massive compliment, thank you. I think I'll be on cloud 9 for quite some time! Image credit goes to my gorgeous friend Lorena

This quilt also won a couple of ribbons at other quilt shows last year - it came second in the Modern category at the Australian Machine Quilting Festival (AMQF) in August 2016, and it came second in the Improvisation category at the Australian Modern Quilt Show in November. I also entered it into our local quilt show - Island Quilts - in September, where it wasn't awarded anything. Which brings me to the point of this post. Please keep in mind this is all my opinion - I'm not an expert on this stuff, and I'd love some input from those of you who are!

I'm not an experienced quilt show enterer by any means, and there are still lots of aspects of the jurying and judging process that are a bit mysterious to me, but I do have a few things I have learnt about entering shows that I wanted to share. There are a few aspects of quilts that seem to be important across the board, especially for more traditional quilt shows - having a perfectly square and flat quilt, making sure all your threads are buried into the quilt top, having full binding and having perfectly mitred corners - but not all of these seem to be as important in all categories, or indeed in all shows. 

If you are serious about entering quilt shows, and you have the opportunity to get feedback from the judges, I think this is a really valuable thing to do. When I entered my quilts into AMQF last year, I chose to pay a small additional entry fee in order to get a feedback sheet from the judges. I am SO glad I did this - it was well worth the cost. The judging panel for that show was fantastic (Sue Patten, Claudia Pfiel and Michelle Bouchier), and they gave such valuable comments on each of my quilts, especially areas that needed improvement. Two of my quilts (Aviatrix and Galaxy) were entered into the one of the traditional categories, and Scattered was entered in the Modern category - and although each of the categories had the same judging criteria, certain aspects weren't as important in the Modern category, compared to the more traditional category. I'm unsure if this is the case across the board, but it was refreshing to see these judges appreciated Modern quilts as being a little different from traditional quilts. As you can see from the feedback sheets below, quilting execution (ie stitching in the ditch etc) wasn't considered as important in the Modern category. 

So although I'm still learning about the whole quilt-show-entering thing, I learned a lot from getting proper feedback from these judges. One thing I have started doing since getting this feedback is stitching down my corners! It's a whole new world once you start entering shows (and as I said before, I'm seriously a newbie without a whole lot of knowledge about it all), but it's something I really enjoy. This comment by Jenny Bacon (taken from the Judges Report after Island Quilts 2016) really stuck with me:
'On judging day the judges can only compare the quilts in any category with each other, each show has different categories and different combinations of quilts. A quilt that wins a prize at one show may not win at the next, this is a normal consequence of the way quilt shows are organised, you will be in a different pool of entrants.
For those of you who aspire to winning prizes there are some areas we noticed this year that need to be considered. Prizewinners will demonstrate their mastery of both design and technique, and others may miss out only because on the day someone else managed one or anther aspect better. We can all improve; and those of us who make quilts for display practice all aspects to produce the best we can.'
This comment has so many important take-home messages in it. And when it comes down to it, as much as quilts are judged on their technical details, design and originality is always an important consideration. To me, judging a quilt show is like judging any form of art, and I can't imagine how difficult it must be to be bombarded with quilt after quilt and have to decide which is the best in each category. 
I fully realise that entering shows isn't every quilters cup of tea, but for me it is a lot of fun to see your quilt hanging in a show and being seen by lots of people who appreciate quilts. I don't think I'll ever be a really serious show quilter (I think striving for that level of perfection would kill the joy for me), but I do think I'll continue entering shows and pushing myself to improve my technical skills. I'm really interested to hear other people's thoughts on all of this, so if you have anything to add I'd love to chat with you about it! 
I'll be back to share another recent finish once I get around to getting some good photos - hopefully later this week!

xx Jess

Wednesday 15 February 2017

FAL 2017 - Meet the Hosts - Me!

Today it's my turn to introduce myself as one of the global hosts for the 2017 Finish A Long!

Hi, I'm Jess, otherwise known as Elven Garden Quilts. This is my second year as a FAL host, and although I'm not great at actually participating in the FAL (I have a pretty bad history of not finishing anything on my list!), it's great to be back to cheer you all along for a second year. I thought this was going to be a really hard post to write - but once I got started it was surprisingly easy. So I've inserted photos of some of my favorite quilts in amongst the text - feel free to skim the words if you'd rather just look at quilts ;o).

I'm a 36 year old mum of three not-so-small people - my eldest son (12 year old) started high school this year (grade 7), and I have a 9 year old son and a 6 year old daughter. Needless to say, moments of sewing have been few and far between over the last few months while they've had their summer holidays - but they went back to school last week, so there is some semblance of normality in our household again :o). I have an incredible partner too, who encourages me in all my quilty endeavours and listens patiently when I ramble on about my current projects. We also have two fur babies - Shadow and Pepper, our little quilt-cats, who spend at least 90% of their time asleep on various quilts and cushions around the house! I'll often go back to hand stitch binding and find my quilt has been invaded by cats ;o).

We live in Tasmania, Australia - that little island that sits off the southern coast of mainland Australia. It's a beautiful place to live - we don't have a huge population and we are surrounded by some of the most gorgeous wilderness in the world (in my humble opinion!). I grew up in a pretty arty/crafty family - my Dad studied ceramics at Art School and is an art teacher at a college, and my mum has always been involved with some sort of textile art. She made most of our clothes as kids, and is now obsessed with spinning and knitting all kinds of gorgeous yarn. So it's kinda unsurprising that I've grown up to be a maker.

Although I have a science degree (and work as a lab technician part time), I've always enjoyed making stuff. I started cross stitching when I was quite young, and continued that hobby right through to my university years. It wasn't until I had my youngest child that I decided to get a sewing machine - with the intention of making clothes and toys for my kids. I had fun doing this for a while, but then on a whim I bought a beginner's quilting magazine and that was the beginning of a true obsession. For me, quilting is the perfect marriage of maths and art - I love numbers and I love working with colour, so it's not surprising it has overtaken all of my spare time!

I started quilting around 5 or 6 years ago - and back when I started, my tiny sewing room overlooked the garden - so Elven Garden Quilts was born! After a few years, I outgrew that little room, so my 'studio' is now our garage - not the prettiest location, but I can be as messy as I want (and believe me, the term creative chaos fits me perfectly!) and close the door on it so no one else has to be subjected to it ;o).

I first started blogging for a few reasons. Mainly because I didn't actually know anyone who quilted and I didn't want to bore my family and friends to tears constantly talking about my quilts, and blogging was the perfect way to share what I was making. But it quickly became a way to connect with people all over the world who shared my passion. I'm ever in awe of how supportive and wonderful the online quilting community is, and my life would be very different if I hadn't started blogging. I am a self-taught quilter, thanks to the enormous generosity of so many people in sharing tutorials and ideas, and a love of trying to figure out how to make things work!

I loosely call myself a modern quilter - although I've made plenty of quilts that are far more traditional than modern! I think I'm probably best known for my love of free motion quilting - everything I piece is quilted to death on my domestic Bernina. About three years ago, I was actually invited to become a Bernina Ambassador here in Australia, which is an incredible honour :o). I have several free motion quilting tutorials available on my YouTube channel - and I plan on doing a lot more of these this year! I've been teaching patchwork and quilting classes on a weekly basis for the last three years (although I'm currently having a break, after burning out from a pretty hefty teaching load last year), which is something I absolutely love.

Last year was a big year for me as a quilter, both on a professional and personal level. I won several awards for my quilts at some of our national quilt shows (the Australian Modern Quilt Show and the Australian Machine Quilting Festival), and I taught a lot of classes - both patchwork and free motion quitling. On the personal side of things, I feel like I really grew as a quilter. Although I've always loved making quilts and been happy with the finished product, I've struggled to find my style. But in the last half of last year I feel like I started to find my voice, and started making quilts that are more 'me' than ever before. Although I've always used and loved my design wall, I now rely on it constantly as a tool to design my quilts. Aviatrix is one of the last quilts I made using someone else's pattern - and I think it will be the last for a fairly long time. I'm enjoying doing my own thing so much right now!

The last few quilts I've made (and my current work in progress) all started as a vague idea and a giant pile of fabric, and relied on my design wall to figure out what they would become. You can read all about the process I went through when making Scattered (shown below) herehere, here and here. And if you're attending QuiltCon this year, please go say hi to her - she was juried into the show which is enormously exciting!

I recently wrote about the process of making one of my recent finishes, Flow. Again this quilt started as a pile of fabric and a very vague idea (as in, I knew I wanted to use improv curves), but the design came together through trial and error.

Although I'm much better at starting and finishing projects than I used to be (which isn't to say I don't have any WIPs - there are lots of those!), I work best when don't feel like I *have* to work on a particular project. Which is probably why I make FAL lists and then largely ignore them... Having said that, I have several projects that have been ignored for far too long that I do want to finish this year, so next quarter you can expect me to fully participate and knock over some very long term WIPs!

Thanks for letting me introduce myself (and my quilts!), and I look forward to cheering you all on this year as you work through your FAL lists!

xx Jess

Wednesday 1 February 2017

Flow {A Finished Quilt}

Wow, it's been a long, long time since I've shared a quilt finish in this space! It's nice to be back - and I have several quilts and quilt tops I finished toward the end of last year that I'm hoping to share over the next few weeks. The first two I'll be showing you were made essentially in secret - that is, I resisted my usual tendency to completely overshare what I'm working on. The main reason for this was that both of these were made specifically for the challenge categories for QuiltCon 2016, so I wanted them to be a bit of a surprise *if* they were juried into the show. Neither of them got accepted, so I'm kind of excited to be able to share them at last!

The quilt I'm sharing today was made for the Michael Miller Luxe challenge - she's called Flow and she was a really fun quilt top put together. This is a fairly long post, as I'll be showing a bit of my process as well as a few pictures of the final quilt, so please bear with me! I would normally split this much information across a few blog posts - but I'm making up for my recent lack of blog posts by giving you a single enormous post ;o).

Mid last year, the Modern Quilt Guild offered members the opportunity to sign up for the Michael Miller Luxe challenge, one of the special categories that would be part of the QuiltCon 2017 show. Everyone who signed up for the Luxe challenge was sent two half yard pieces of fabric, in one of the colour stories below. Participants were then allowed to add ONE cotton couture solid to these, and to use any of the Luxe range of fabrics in their quilt. The fabrics I received were the middle two, and I then added a deep teal cotton couture to these, as well as solid white and grey Luxe fabrics.

I have to admit, these fabrics sat in a pile on my cutting table for a good few months before I started getting some ideas about what to do with them. These fabrics are sheeting fabric rather than quilting cotton, and as such have a slightly different sheen (they are quite shiny) and have a wee bit more stretch than regular quilting cotton. I was a little bit nervous about working with them, but eventually I decided improv curves were the way to go, and I started making a few blocks, without any real plan as to what I'd do with them. Apologies for the poor lighting in the next few photos - my design wall has overhead fluorescent lights, which make it really hard to get good pictures of the whole wall. 

Initially, I made a few blocks, thinking I would position them so that there was a continuous improv curve from top to bottom down the quilt. 

But as I kept making blocks, I decided to lay them out more randomly, with more negative space between and around the blocks. At this point I hadn't ordered any solids for the background, and my initial thought was to surround them all with white, and to create continuous curved lines through the quilt with quilting.

But, when I sat down to order the solids, I decided at the last minute to get some grey as well as white, and use this to create some more movement in the negative space. I think this is what I love most about improv quilts - it's such a playful process, figuring out layout and design on the fly. Working with an idea, testing things out and discarding ideas that don't quite work.

I had a love-hate relationship with this quilt the entire time I was piecing it. Thankfully, I have a really awesome quilty friend (kat) who was happy for me to bombard her with photos and questions as I was working on it. I think I've grown so used to oversharing my projects on social media as I'm working on them, that working on something in secret made me feel like I was in a black hole in some ways. I needed the opportunity to get constructive criticism when I was making this, or I honestly think I would have abandoned it. 

In the end, this quilt was a weird combination of improv curves, and some pretty intense precision piecing to get those curves to form a continuous line through the quilt top. It was a really fun challenge, so despite those times I didn't like it, I still enjoyed the process. And seriously, this quilt was SO much fun to add texture to. Quilting is a super important part of quilt making for me - and the whole time I was piecing it I was thinking about how I would quilt it, to add to the sense of movement in the quilt top, and add loads of texture without detracting from the design. I forgot to take a photo of the top before I quilted it, so this is it in full. After I'd finished piecing, I decided to orientate the curves across the quilt, rather than top to bottom, and I much prefer it this way around :o).

As always, I did all the quilting on my little domestic Bernina (440QE), but because it's a reasonably small quilt (around 60" square) it was a really enjoyable quilt to quilt. I decided to use batting with a bit of loft to make all the quilting stand out, so I chose a Wool/Polyester batting - it's become one of my favorites to use. The batting, combined with the fact that it's made from sheeting, has resulted in the softest quilt I've ever made, despite all that dense free motion quilting.

All the quilting on this one is done in Aurifil 50wt - white, dove and a few different blues to blend in with the fabrics. Although I've recently used a few other weights of Aurifil for quilting (40wt and 28wt), for this quilt I decided 50wt was the way to go, as I wanted the quilting to blend into the fabric as much as possible, just leaving all that texture.

I don't often piece backs for my quilts - but I had a few bits of the Luxe grey and white left over, as well as a bunch of half-metre pieces of various blues, aqua and teal cotton couture that I pieced together for this one. Solids are the BEST for showing up quilting :o).

Thanks for making it this far in a pretty epic blog post! As I said, I have a few more quilts to share, which I hope to do over the next few weeks. I've made a few fairly major life changes this year (all good ones) which will mean I have more time and energy to blog more regularly. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy talking about and sharing my projects here, so you'll have to put up with my rambling a bit more frequently from now on...

xx Jess