Thursday, December 6, 2018

Gnomes Quilt

This gnome fabric called to me from the clearance table of the Color Me Quilts shop in Fremont, CA  and I bought a lot of it – over three yards. It is by Michael Miller and titled Handy Gnomes. My daughter's best friend  – throughout middle school, high school, college, and maid/matron of honor at each other's weddings – has a penchant for gnomes so this had to go to her for her second child, Charlotte. Since the scale of this focus fabric is so large and the depicted scene is so delightful, I did not want to chop it up. It cried out for a strip quilt.

I have made strip quilts before. These three were from locally assembled prepackaged kits that I acquired from an Oklahoma quilt shop while visiting my daughter. Duck and Cover can be found in my blog post for 9/12/12, E-I-E-I-O in my blog post for 12/9/15, and Fun Guys in my blog post for 6/17/15.

Then I branched out with my own version of strip quilts for which I picked the fabrics. Each of these had a large scale focus fabric that I wanted to preserve and not cut up. Classic Cars can be found in my blog post for 3/9/15 and Ghastlies in my blog post for 3/17/14. Ghastlies was a gift for Charlotte's older sister Rose.

So I ventured forth to have fun auditioning fabrics for other strips to go with the focus gnome fabric. I narrowed it down to the contenders in the following photo, leaving my sewing room in shambles with those I rejected in my first round. Of the semi-finalists, some either competed too much with the focus gnomes – such as those whimsical Seussical squiggly stripes on the upper right, or were too bland – such as the conservative mini-plaid in lower right. The two tone check (lower left) was kind of dark compared to the focus gnome print so I picked the brightening dots (bottom row) instead and would position it so as to lend lightness without being too distracting. Everybody discouraged me from those dots on the bright lime background but I loved them and was convinced I could make them work. That blue stripe (bottom row) matched the gnomes' shirts too closely to be eliminated. Plus if I had only reds and greens, the quilt would look too Christmasy. There was another reason to keep the dots since they contained the Christmas neutralizing blue that was also in the gnome shirts and the brown that was in the tree bark. That is my problem with strip quilt tops. I like too many different fabrics and when I keep adding rows, the tops just seem to grow and grow in height. I aim to cut things off at 60" especially for a child. Many discouraged me from white cheerios on lime background. I wanted to keep them because of their blue centers but I finally agreed that in this case, the majority opinion was right. I left them out. Although their colors were great, they were too linearly graphic and therefore distracting. I kept in the red on red subtle spots in the upper left but used it in small doses.

Since piecing is my favorite part of quilting, I thought, "Instead of only one fabric for each strip, why not make those horizontal bands a line of pieced blocks instead ?" I started by searching on line for a house pattern. I found these scrappy tutorials free on Craftsy for their block of the month from 2015. I downloaded the July pinwheel, the January star, the December tree, the September house, and the February heart. Each finished to 8" so five blocks across added up to barely less than one width of fabric. I deciding on using the tree and the house because they were in the focus gnome print but I chose not to use the pinwheel, star, and heart. I waffled on eliminating the heart since this quilt is for a little girl but reasoned that less is more.

Scrap piecing is fun but the cutting seems to take forever. I wanted each tree to have six different greens at the six tiers and the mini-prints to be in varied order.

When I made the houses I wanted to mix them up fabric wise but I made sure that none of the homes had a red roof. I wanted that feature to remain unique to the gnome fabric. Each house had a wood grain door. I varied backgrounds as well.

Since I had been so successful  in googling the house quilt pattern, I tried for a gnome pattern and luck was with me. I was able to buy this gnome block pattern shown in the following photo from Etsy @ Burlap and Blossom for a nominal amount. I could use it immediately since it downloaded as a pdf in both a 6" size or 12" size. I changed the color scheme and banded the 6" version to bring it up to the same size as the house and tree. Since all the gnomes in the feature fabric were dressed alike, I colored my gnome blocks like them with a red hat, blue shirt, and green pants. The downloaded pattern defaulted to the opposite coloring of shirt and pants; i.e., shirt was green and pants were blue. The aqua background did work with both the light and dark colors of the gnome but I would need to come up with another option more in keeping with my color scheme. 

After making my first gnome block I realized I could simplify the pattern a bit by eliminating two vertical seams in the top row and two vertical seams in the bottom row. I also cut those shoulder background pieces as one instead of two. That ½" by ½" square sewn on the diagonal to make a half square triangle for the shoulder was too teeny weeny for me to struggle with. Instead I made the background one rectangle and nipped off the corner on a diagonal. 

I also learned after the first gnome block, that I needed a background that contrasted with the white beards and so I selected a variety of wood grains. After all, gnomes are builders. In the quilt assembly, each gnome is standing by a house whose door matches his background wood grain tone.

I did also tweak the background on this house block by replacing the top and bottom bands with stripes that ran vertically as in the rest of the block. I had introduce enough background fabrics that there was enough busyness going on that I tried to introduce calm consistency wherever I could – without being too stodgy, of course.

Here are three reject blocks, one each tree, gnome, and house. I rejected the gnome because his beard blends into the light background. Perhaps I could satin stitch around his outline to define it better. For the house and the tree, I disliked how the lines of the background did not line up. With a more abstract and unstructured background fabric, that feature does not jump out. I loved the wonky check background the three are displayed against, but could not find a spot to use the wonky check on the quilt front. Originally I thought  I would "hide" this trio and wonkiness on the back as bonus blocks. Then I decided if I rejected them because of the way they looked, they would not look any better on the back. I left them off the quilt and instead used them for quilt pattern testing, thread tensioning, and thread color selection on my Sweet 16 sit-down longarm.

I did put that wonky check that I so loved on the back, though. I bought this fabric when I was with my daughter Robin at the Houston quilt show so I thought it appropriate to go into a quilt for her longtime friend, Mary.

I auditioned fabrics in varying widths for the strips between the rows of pieced blocks. I agonized over whether to group houses and trees together methodically, or scatter them randomly. With so much going on, especially since I did not choose a consistent background for the pieced blocks, my eye had no place to rest. I substituting in and out the background fabrics for the pieced blocks. I engaged the opinions of my husband, a quilt guild member/friend, and my daughter. My husband/friend did not like lime background multi-colored dots. I did. In terms of grouped or scattered houses and trees, my daughter provided the ultimate decision in an email based on these two photo option I sent her. She liked the more random look. To quote her, "I imagine gnomes living interspersed with trees, not in a big dwarf city." Notice in these two versions I was still reluctant to give up on those blue centered white cheerios.

Ultimately I went with a single wide band of focus gnome fabric,  narrow separating strips of the subtle red dots, scattered houses and trees but grouped by like backgrounds, wood grain gnome blocks, and my beloved lime background multi-colored dots at the top and bottom. Alas, I did give up my cheerios. I would save that blue stripe for the binding.

Free Motion Quilting (FMQing)
I tried to introduce some consistency in my FMQing. I stitched all houses vertically with close ¼" spaced lines. I chose not to use a ruler, deciding the more organic look was more in keeping with a whimsical child quilt. Rulers do take longer but I am getting better so it would not have been that much longer. This was truly a choice, not laziness. I did stitch around the door and window and roof only because I felt it was too large an area to be left totally without quilting. My intent in quilting the background and minimally on the house was to have the background recede and the house come forward. 

I stitched all trees horizontally with wider ½" spaced lines. I left the trees themselves minimally quilted, so they would come forward and the background recede. Where adjacent backgrounds were the same I treated them as one. There were no vertical lines between the trees. I initially rejected this background as too busy but decided the multi colors it introduced was worth the minor chaos. By grouping like backgrounds together and quilting them as one unit, I gained a more unified effect.

To be different and rather than compete with the wood grain, I stitched the gnomes diagonally with wider yet spacing. I used masking tape to help me hold a diagonal direction. I left the central gnome of the block without quilting.

I did a dot to dot quilt pattern per Angela Walters in the multi-colored dots and a tiny wishbone in the narrow red strips.

I stalled and stalled and was indecisive about what to do in the gnome large scale focus fabric. An allover meander seemed boring and I also am not very good at free form quilting. I do better with a plan and guidance. This quilt is for a girl and so swirls might be appropriate but I thought they might be too feminine for the male gnomes – sexist, I admit. But then again I did some swirls on some patriotic placemats to practice, my post for July 12, 2018, and I really am not skilled enough with swirls either. So I went back to my dot to dot method learned from Angela Walters. I decided to echo, without 100% copying, the pattern in the multi-dots. I would do an orange peel without the central Xs. But what size? I did not want the quilt to be so quilted it was more like "flexible cardboard" (a descriptive phrase coined by my daughter), I did not want to detract from the gnomes, and honestly,  I also did not want to be at the FMQing for weeks.

The gnomes were more rectangular than square so I had the inspiration to make an orange peel pattern that was taller than wide.

I picked a size that was comparable to the gnome and would fit an integral number within the height and width of the gnome fabric. I determined that a 2⅞ " high by 2" wide  rectangle would work out well. I drew several repetitions of it on a vinyl sheet protector.

I laid the vinyl sheet over the print. The rectangle would only occasionally be centered on a gnome, but still with a similar scale, I felt it enhanced the print rather than fought it.

I then marked dots on the panel to indicated where my target points were for quilting. The point of the white pencil indicates a dot  – in this case, two dots actually. Whoops!

Sometimes the fabric was hard to read where the white dots were and a few times I goofed and put two dots, so I used a ruler marked with tape to help me aim for the boundaries of a 2⅞ " high by 2" wide rectangle. Again, I was going for "organic" here and not regimented precision.

I chose a bright green thread that blended well but did peek out just a bit. It looked fine on the back, where I used some of that wonky check, kind of like little pillow mints.

I made labels for two lower corners of the quilt back, one with the quilt name and the other with my initials and date. I typically make these out of grosgrain ribbon and attached them before the binding so their raw edges are tucked beneath the binding.

For the binding, I was bound and determined to use that blue stripe. I wanted to draw out the gnomes and their skin tones so I paired the blue with a subtle flesh-toned stripe for the flange on the binding.

The pale flesh tone contrasted with the darker gnome fabric and the blue contrasted with the light  backgrounds on the pieced blocks. I like these curved clips best for holding the binding in place.

Here are closeups of the four corners of the quilt after FMQing and binding: top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right. I think that the quilting in the dots looks enough like four petaled flowers and that the wishbones in the red have enough curliness that they do add a bit of girlishness to the quilt without departing too far from gender neutrality.

These are the central side edges against the gnome focus print.

Here is the full front view of the completed Gnomes. It measures 42" wide by 60" long. The fingers up top and the feet below belong to my husband Frank.

I used the wonky check and more gnomes on the back.

The two lower corners on the back bear the name and date labels.

I had finished Gnomes around mid October, even before the Xmas stocking for my grandson, William (post for 11/7/18) but held on to it because my daughter would be visiting from Oklahoma for Thanksgiving and I wanted Robin to see it in person before I mailed it to her friend Mary's second daughter, Charlotte in Boston. Similarly I delayed publishing this post until the gift arrived. I had already missed the tiny baby infant window, so I deemed a few more weeks would not be so critical. Here is my daughter Robin with me, wishing the best for Charlotte as she begins using her gnome quilt.

Gnomes was sewn from 100% cotton fabrics all from my stash. No additional purchases! None whatsoever! I washed the quilt twice with Color Catchers, once with dye setting detergent Synthrapol and once with my normal detergent Era. There was no color bleeding and it softened up and crinkled nicely. Here it is folded to send off. 

I added a few goodies to the package so big sister Rose would not feel left out. There is a board game with a gnome theme.

And I purchased toy gnomes in two sizes, one crocheted and one plush.

Today is December 6th and I just saw and heard back that the package arrived! Whoo-hoo!