Friday, March 30, 2018

May I Introduce Lucy Boston?

I don't actually know Lucy Boston (1892-1990) or much about her, but I can tell you what I learned from Wikipedia. She was an author who also happened to have made 22 "patchworks" in her life. She never wrote about them or made much of them, but they became known when a close friend arranged an exhibition in 1976. In 1985, her daughter-in-law published a book The Patchworks of Lucy Boston which is more stories and letters from her life with pictures of the quilts and less a quilt pattern book.

And much more recently, her quilts have become a craze. Or at least, I started to see them everywhere. And I couldn't stop looking -- especially at one design called Patchwork of the Crosses (POC or PotC for short).

It's usually done with the English paper piecing technique, which I have never done before. It's very fiddly and has many steps as you wrap each piece of fabric around a piece of stiff paper (gluing or sewing in place), then sew together adjoining pieces by hand. Finally, you have to remove all those papers. Who wants all that?

Apparently me because I let myself try it out and now I am completely obsessed. Here's an overview of the blocks I have finished since January:

A quick overview of how you put them together. I purchased acrylic templates in the shapes needed for the quilt. (The top set in the photo.)
Picture from the DIY Addict website, where I bought my supplies.
When you put the clear template on the fabric, you put the part you want to see inside the outline on the template, and you cut along the edges.

Then you take the papers (which I also purchased although some people make their own), and wrap the fabric around it.

Some people sew baste it the fabric around the paper, but I'm using a glue stick. (There's a special "glue pen" they sell for this that works better than a regular school glue stick. But the later works if that's what you've got.)

The basic pattern of how the pieces fit together is shown below; you just have to chose which fabrics goes in which place.
Picture from the DIY Addict website.
The shape is called a "honeycomb" to differentiate it
from a regular symmetrical hexagon.
The "blocks" go together something like this:
Picture from the DIY Addict website.
If you look at the two blocks in the sample quilt above, you can maybe see why it's called Patchwork of the Crosses. One block makes a cross with vertical and horizontal bars and the other makes a diagonal cross. It all depends on how you place the fabric.

The first thing I did was comb all of my fabric for ones that I thought would work. You want ones with repeating patterns (so you can put the same thing on four or eight honeycombs) and usually designs which are symmetric or where you can get mirror images.

The second thing I did was buy more fabric when I was visiting the in-laws in Missouri in February. I visited a few of my MIL's local quilt shops and then I also took a road trip to Missouri Star Quilt Company.

It was hard to know what would work since I had no experience, but I brought my template with me and was able to at least judge the scale of the design.

At one store, the owner did ask in her most polite but highly dubious voice if I was really going to put all those fabrics in one quilt. Yes, lady, I am. Watch and learn.

But I made my first block from stash fabrics, like this feather design:
I picked out some other fabrics to go with it and got started.

The first thing to do was figure out how to sew the honeycombs together. The easiest is a simple whip stitch from the back side. This often shows a little on the front but I had watched tutorials (dipping my toe in, so to speak, before I allowed myself to jump in) on how to angle the needle while sewing to avoid it.

It didn't work. For me, at least.

So I switched to a ladder stitch and that has been working much better for me. I took this picture to show the comparison with the whip stitch sewing the pieces of tree fabric together and the ladder stitch attaching the orange fabric.
But I think it mostly just shows how obsessed I can get with tiny details because I know you can't really see any difference. (Those white lines on the little bit of green tree are not stitches--that's part of the design.)

I think you can see the stitches a little more in the center of the following picture, but I mostly put it here to show how much I had to learn about matching up the patterns. The tree trunk was supposed to hit at the centre on all four pieces and it does on only one.
Oh well, from further back it doesn't matter as much. I'm not redoing it for sure, but I'm more careful now for sure.

This is a shot of the back of a completed block:
Once I have the block together, I take out the papers from the centre pieces. I need the ones on the outside for sewing on the sashing pieces. Removing the centre pieces relieves stress and pull on the fabric and stitches, and I don't want to leave the fabric glued to the paper any longer than necessary to make it as easy as possible to remove. This also saves me from removing all the papers in the whole quilt all at once, which would be quite a TV marathon.

I thought this process would involve deciding what pieces to cut out and then putting them together, but there has been a lot more experimenting than I expected. In many cases, I cut pieces out that I think may work and then play with them to see how I like them together or if I want them together.

Here are a few collages of different options I've played around with:
I don't think I ended up going with any of the above options.
This is the layout I have settled on:
but it's not sewn yet because I'm not convinced yet.
I thought the block on the left above was final, but when I saw it in a photo, I didn't like the pink in the outer corners. So I tried something else, and I like it a lot more. This one is more like the ones I admire online where it's hard to even pick out the different fabrics. (This is actually very traditional in the layout as the centre cross is one fabric, the four pieces diagonal from the centre cross are another fabric and the outer ring is made up of one fabric in the outer corners and a different fabric between them. What part of the fabric you chose to cut makes all the difference!)
I ended up with this design:

I played a lot with the owl pieces, and ended up here:
I haven't seen any other blocks like this. I wonder how many other animals I could make. A raccoon seems particularly suited with the markings around its eyes, but I don't know if that will happen.

Here are larger pictures of the blocks I have sewn together sew far.

The first few are more traditional in that they have a centre cross with matching pairs at the ends.

The next few are only a little different in that either the centre pieces or outside pieces are all the same fabric:


The next one is fairly traditional except that I carefully cut one piece of fabric to gradate from yellow to reddish orange.
The next one also doesn't stray too far:
The outer pieces and centre cross are all from the same fabric, but I had to cut three distinct sections. The outer corners have the strong diagonal blue line. The ones between them are cut to match the pattern at the seam and have a strong blue line where they meet. And the centre cross pieces were cut to make an interesting design in the middle and to have a blue curved line to meet with the line from the outside pieces.

And all of them could have been moved. The centre four pieces flipped so the blue curves met in the middle. The outer corners switched so that the blue lines made arches instead of Vs. Can you see how this gets complicated? (Can you see why I get obsessed?)

Finally, we have some more unusual designs where I have played with the form and not kept to the "cross" framework.

First, an X shape where I played with gradients again with careful cutting from one piece of green and yellow fabric:
Here is a turned X shape where I attempted a gradient by using different fabrics:
And finally, a spiral:
This would be fun with gradients too!

I am having so much fun putting together these blocks. So many possibilities!

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