Monday, June 1, 2015

Mandala Class

I took a class this past Saturday and Sunday at Wooden Gate Quilts, a shop in Danville, CA about 20 miles from my home. The class was called Mandala, taught by David Wind. It ran four hours on each day. The description for the class showed four small square quilts with design features such flying geese in a ring and mariners' compass type sharp points, both of which I admire but have never done. These four beauties are not mine; they are samples made by the teacher.

The class featured a paper piecing technique that called for fabric strips like in a jelly roll. I have paper-pieced before but I have done it so infrequently that I need to relearn it every time I do it. Stretching myself with my recent appliqué efforts on Bugs R Us was a positive experience, so I thought a new technique class would be a pretty good idea. An added plus was that it was a small project which I could probably complete within a few days and would not saddle me with yet another unfinished quilt top from a class. Each quilt shown as a sample completes at about 24" x 24".

The supply list called for ½ yard of a focus fabric and sixteen 2½" strips, eight light and eight dark, the pattern that is available from Wooden Gate Quilts, plus binding and backing that would be used outside of class time. I spent hours picking my fabrics. This is the part of a class preparation that always takes me much longer than it should. I have found no way of satisfactorily shortening this time. If I take a shortcut and just grab a few random fabrics without a lot of thought, I wind up disgruntled in class when everybody else's creations look better than mine because they took the time to plan. I wanted to choose  all fabrics from my stash and the combinations were seemingly endless yet no one grouping was just right. I finally decided on a fabric with travel stamps for my focus fabric. The stripe is for the binding and the orange clouds are for the backing. The binding fabric shared a great deal of the colors in the focus print.

I picked colors from the focus fabric – red, orange, blue, and green in both a light and dark version. I struggled a bit with getting a turquoise-tinged blue and an olive-tinged green. I managed to get the strips I needed by building up the nerve to break apart those jelly rolls I have bought through the years but have been reluctant to unfurl. I bet those strips that have been bound up so tightly in that spiral roll felt truly liberated when I set them free. I am now enjoying them more, too, even if tidiness flew out the window.

DAY 1:
The teacher David started out by telling us a bit of background about the pattern and himself. He went through a period when he was very ill and used quilting as a form of therapy. The mandala is reputed to have healing powers and when he got well he made one in gratitude for each of his caregivers. The key features of a mandala is a circle with four gates, often within a square, displaying radial symmetry in some form. Having this context and preamble made the class  more meaningful for me. The mandala construction is by quadrants, each one with four concentric arcs. Here is what I produced the first day of class, a start on my first quadrant.

I struggled at first with the paper piecing sequence but once I got it down I did not want to forget it. I really like that the process used strips. They wasted less fabric and were easier to handle than cutting small scraps and hoping they cover when flipped. The straight of grain always went along at least one seam line, too, so that was an added perk. See how the swirls in the geese do have a constant orientation?

At home that night I did the circular flying geese and the radial spiky points for three other quadrants. It was quite addicting and I stayed up until 3 o'clock in the morning because I was so engaged. I was able to incorporate an orange and white chevron print as the geese. I often find chevrons difficult to use. The chevron direction on the geese and the swirl direction on their wings were both consistent by this method.

The blue quadrant used the same fabrics in the flying geese as the red quadrant did. The dots on the spikes were a different colorway of the same fabric line. Again, I was pleased with the consistent swirl direction on the geese.

The big dots on the green spikes were from another jelly roll and tended toward the more olive tone I needed. I will admit, I did break down and buy an ⅛ yard of the green tiny dots. But hey, I used another one of those hard-to-use chevron strips, this time in green and white! Although the swirls were a bit too emerald, the green in the chevron was olive enough it all worked.

DAY 2:
The second day of class we paper-pieced one outermost and one innermost quadrant arc section, leaving the other three of each to complete at home. We spent the remainder of class learning how best to handle, pin, sew, and press the pieces when seaming the curves. Starting with the outermost section of one quadrant we joined it to the flying geese quarter ring. This took care but was not too difficult since the radius is rather generous. Then we joined that assembly to the spiky quarter ring. This was more challenging but fortunately those spiky points were very forgiving and they were not intended to meet at any specific points on the flying geese. The last piece to add was the center quarter circle. I thought this seam was the hardest and had to be sewn very slowly and carefully. Luckily it was the shortest seam so the struggles were not long-lasting.

DAY 3 (home):
I woke early this morning and went directly into my sewing room to unpack and look at my progress. I removed the piecing paper, a mindless but somewhat time consuming task, ideal for first thing in the morning before the mind is fully awake or late at night when the body is just about ready for sleep. Then I paper pieced the innermost and outermost sections for the remaining three quadrants. The central quarter circle is called the "melon". The outermost section has points that remind me of a compass. I joined the flying geese to the outermost compass points, the spiky points to the flying geese, and last, the "melon" to the spiky points, thus completing my first quadrant.

After completing one quadrant I remembered I had not photographed the center "melon" sections pre-assembly. Here is a closeup of the four centers. Each uses the same light fabric as in the flying geese quarter ring of the matching colorway, but uses a mini-dot for the dark. I needed a break at this point so I paused and had some Peanut M&Ms for lunch. I was bemused by how the colors matched the mandala. There is even brown in the travel stamp print focus fabric. Is this kismet, foretelling a possible name for this project? M&M Mandala, perhaps?

Here are the other three quadrants in their full M&M hued glory.

Next I need to square up these four blocks and join them. My husband walked in the door a couple hours ago and called up to my sewing room saying, "Hey, remember me? I am your husband". I have been totally immersed in this project for this past weekend and today, so I really should surface. It was engaging almost to the point of addiction. Plus, I did not want to forget the technique nor have this class project turn into yet another UFO. But enough is enough for now.

You mean it is time to cook? M&Ms for dinner anyone?

I will be linking up this Wednesday to Freshly Pieced's Works in Progress.


  1. Ha! Little A would do M&Ms for dinner! I'd be tempted, but right now the thought so much chocolate (like pretty much everything else, sigh) kind of makes me sick. But that Mandala is awesome and gorgeous. I LOVE the look of a "circular" quilt center, and have been drooling over this skillbuilder in my fantasy future to-do list for a while:

    I mean, obviously this is for a fantasy future where I do curves with ease, have time to paper piece extensively, and have wall space to display something clearly work-intensive and big but not bed-sized, but you know; a girl can dream.

    And, I am also a fan of the paper piecing in strips. I too am offended by the waste, but LESS offended than I am by having to go back repeatedly and do a seam again because I miscalculated if my scrap was big enough. I think I ruined three of my trial "Christmas Traditions" blocks that way and then said "what the heck: if I have enough fabric, there's no reason to torture myself like this."

    1. Wow! I went to your link and that is an impressive amount of skills to learn, The skills listed were, " bias appliqué, foundation paper piecing, raw-edge appliqué, english paper piecing, turned edge appliqué, curves piecing, strip piecing, improvisational piecing, free motion quilting, and straight line quilting". And I thought I was stepping out of my comfort zone with just the non-specific appliqué and paper piecing skills I tried on my last two projects. Obviously I have a lot to learn. Your skill builder link has definitely given me food for thought. I still have several Craftsy classes that I have not completed but truthfully their "new" content is a small percentage for me. This link would really stretch me.