Friday, April 17, 2015

A Color Journey - From Here to There and Back Again

I've just started work on a low volume quilt. Softer, quieter quilts with light backgrounds are widely popular in modern quilting, and I like so many of the quilts I'm seeing. It's time to give low volume a whirl, and I've chosen to experiment with muted pastels on white. When I look at my new fat quarters, it seems like I've come full circle.

There's a story, of course.

As a child I loved art class best of all. In high school and during my first two years of college I took all the art courses I could even though I knew I was not meant to be a professional artist. I was too timid. Bold use of color or great, sweeping strokes of paint were terrifying. I didn't want any of my work to be "wrong".

Eventually, I found teaching. It became my life's work, and working with children was exactly where I belonged. Years flew by. In addition to being a teacher, I was the mom who sewed clothes, curtains, and Halloween costumes, but I turned up my nose at quilting. Something from bygone generations. Definitely not my thing.

Then my daughter told me that I'd soon become a grandmother, and she asked if I'd please make a baby quilt. She didn't sew, but she did own some beautiful quilts. At that moment she could have asked for the moon and I would have fetched it for her.

I had no idea what I was doing when I made that very first quilt. I didn't grasp how exact those 1/4" seams needed to be. Even so, I was instantly hooked on quilting. I studied the basics and got myself a 1/4" quilting foot and quilters' cutting tools. Before I could blink I was merrily churning out one baby quilt after another. Pretty little baby colors, clean white backgrounds, absolutely perfect for me!

I tried my hand at larger quilts, but I was disappointed in so many of them. Quilt blocks and partially completed quilt tops found their way into the give-away bag because I simply couldn't bear to look at them anymore.

One day I ran across an article in a quilt magazine about choosing fabrics for quilts that almost jumped off the page. Every quilt book I'd read had promoted the same ideas, but somehow this particular article woke me up.

The word, "pop", appeared over and over. Dark values "pop" on light background, light values "pop" on dark backgrounds. In addition to color value, the article continued, balance between large scale prints, smaller prints, and solids or tone on tone fabrics could make a quilt come to life with "pop".

I had assumed that with my background in art I knew what I was doing. Oh, so wrong! My quilts were desperately lacking in "pop".

I took a deep breath and went shopping for fabrics that were light, medium, and dark in value. I bought big, dramatic prints, and mixed them in with other fabrics.  Some combinations worked. Some didn't. But as I learned to embrace color in all it's hues and values and to incorporate prints of varying scale, my quilts took on new life. Before long I was fearlessly choosing bold, vibrant fabrics and experimenting with new color palettes. "Pop, pop, pop!"

This past week when I began cutting into that stack of quiet fat quarters in the pastel colors I've always loved I realized that I had somehow found my way back to the beginning.

"Hush," the fabrics whisper to me. "Your colors don't have to shout all of the time." No "pop"? We'll soon know how a quiet quilt will look.  Full circle. I hope I've learned enough to make it work this time around.

I don't have photos of the earliest quilts, but the photos below are snapshots of a few important steps along my journey. The first is from a pattern in a McCall's magazine. I hadn't begun making patterns when I designed the others.

An experiment with value. All of these blocks are from a single block pattern.

Kaffe Fassett is discovered. Talk about "pop"!

Working with scale and bold contrasts. Could this be from the person who was afraid of color?
Piecing combined with applique in light and bright scrappy fabrics.
With this quilt I found my happy place in quilting.
... and back again ...

Happy stitching, fellow travelers!