Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Leah Day's Transformation Quilt Challenge

I have loved Leah Day’s site since I first discovered it, just a couple weeks into her project! Leah challenged herself to create a new filler quilting stitch each day for a year.

The designs she comes up with are amazing, and each day I dread how slow my computer is to pull up her site, as I am holding my breath to see the new design. When it is finally revealed (I have high speed, but boy! is that a long 3 seconds to pull up!), what little breath I still had, is completely taken away by the sheer genius and beauty of the new design.

As I read her weekly newsletters and shopped her quilt store, and read the daily blog, I felt like my knowledge of quilting had grown by leaps and bounds, and I thought of Leah as a friend.

When birthdays and Christmas rolled around, my hubby asked what I wanted, and the answer more than once was one of Leah’s books. My hubby had trouble getting one of the books downloaded so called and talked to Leah, and she was just as sweet and helpful over the phone, as she always appears on her blog, she even did something special to help him out. Thanks, Leah!

As I watched her new designs, and saw the new quilts she was creating, I could see a growth and change in her too. So, it was not terribly surprising that when she decided to have a quilting contest, that it would be called “Transformation”.

Because of my personal growth as a quilter, inspired by Leah, I had begun to play with a continuous line FMQ that was an entire scene. I thought of entering that as my contest piece, but it wasn’t anything transforming. It was just a beach scene on a hot summer day. But, it wasn’t transforming! So, “what to do??”

Well, this was a summer scene, maybe the transformation could be all the seasons in one quilt. I began to play with that, and thought of the background fabrics and colors of thread, and really enjoyed the plan. But, soon I realized it was too complicated for such a small quilt, and I wasn’t inspired to create some of the seasons, they came out pretty boring, without a lot more thought and work than I felt I had to spare before the contest deadline – so, again, “what to do??”

As I was mulling (and rejecting) ideas, my screen saver popped on, and up came the faces of my family. Seeing my beautiful grandchildren, I thought how they had changed from even just a year or two ago – a dim light was beginning in the back of my mind, but not enough to even call it a flicker yet. As I watched the different pics float over my screen, lost in memories of each child, another pic came up – my daughter, Diana. POW!!! – the light was now blinding!

What better example of transformation could there be than my daughter? As a baby she was adorably cute, but now she is awesomely beautiful. She began life as a daughter, and now she is a mother. She had been shy, but now put her behind a camera, and she is confident. She was an unskilled employee when she got her first job, and now she owns a business and employs others to help her! Of course, there are many consistencies in her life, like her style and artistic flair, her love of beautiful unique things, her devotion to family and friends. But, these things too have grown in skill level and depth of passion – so that too is a transformation.

As I watched the pics continue to float across my screen, in seconds the pattern for the contest began to form itself. I think my best patterns, are not planned, but come to me in a flash, almost complete, then I have to figure out just how to accomplish the end result. That is how this contest piece came to me – almost complete. Now, I just had to figure out “what to do??”

The contest rules said you had to use at least 5 of Leah’s stitches, so if I did an appliqué, it would be hard to showcase the stitching and yet not bury the pic of Diana. So, my mind went back to the summer continuous line pattern I had played with. The entire quilt had been stitching to show the rolling waves, the palm tree, the flying gulls, the fluffy clouds – you could clearly see the beach and feel the heat of the sun, but it was all done with stitches! Why could I not do the same thing with the pic of my daughter?

I am very fortunate in that Diana and her husband, Ramon, are professional photographers (she owns Peters The pics they take are always awesome, even if they are just family “snapshots”. My top header is one of her pics - and those are her children!  Aren't they cute?

A couple years ago, they had gone on a second honeymoon while I watched the six kids for a week (yeah, I said SIX! - count them). Ramon took one pic, that seemed perfect for what I wanted – a close up of Diana’s face, her staring straight into the lens, her chin resting on her arm.

So, now that I had a pic chosen, I needed to decide what stitches to use. I began scanning Leah’s site (she has it set up so great, sorted by skill level, basic type, use and name). For the hair, I wanted lots of movement, but not something that looked tangly or Medusa-ish. And I wanted to suggest hair that had been kissed by the sun, a few highlights, and a few lowlights.

Leah has so many great designs it was hard to choose! As I would choose a design, I would see how it played out, and compare it to others for the same part of the pic. Since I was planning no appliqué (and no cyanotype printing, my favorite technique) for the pic, and planned to allow the stitches to form the pic, in a whole cloth style, I needed stitches which varied drastically from each other to set up the edges of each part of the pic.

Eventually I ended up choosing all 5 stitches from among the first few designs Leah made. Not that the other later designs are not equally fantastic, but these just seemed to fit!

So, Diana’s hair would be Swirling Flames. It would make the hair look smooth, but wavy. I decided if I could find it, I would use a variegated brown thread so the highlights and lowlights would not be stark, but blend into the hair as a total piece, giving life to her locks.

Her sleeve would be made of Matrix, it looked like a perfect “weave” for the fabric of her blouse. The thread color would match the blue of her eyes.

The background stitching had to be something not curvy since it would surround her hair. I liked the look of Etch N Sketch, because of all the straight lines, that varied in lengths, as it would easily shape around her head. If I did this in a green, it wouldn’t match any other area and would help define the background.

I knew that I only had one area left to quilt – the face – but that was only 4 stitches, so, once more, what to do?? I decided since I cannot embroider, have lousy hand writing and no other way than my favorite technique:cyanotype, to print the words I wanted on the quilt, that describes Diana’s Transformation, I would do a border around the pic to squeeze in one more design and find a home for the words. So, not 100% whole cloth, but pretty close.

This 5th stitch needed to be something round as the background and sleeve both had straight lines, and that is what would be next to the border. Finally I decided on Basic Spiral as the swirls reminded me of the winds of Autumn, kicking up a pile of multi colored leaves and bringing in the change of season, and hinting at the blistering winter storms to come. Or maybe it was more the way the magic wand was waved to change Cinderella’s pumpkin into a sparkling beautiful coach fit for a humble little girl who had been transformed into a princess, on her way to meet Prince Charming. Either way, I was happy with Basic Spiral as the border stitch.

Now, the hard part – her face. What do you think my first thought was? Of course, it was “what to do??” LOL

I wanted something which would make her face have shape, and would show the contours of her cheeks. I would need something that would be smooth looking. Striated Earth seemed perfect!

I planned to make her face in a pale beige thread, and with the same brown used for the hair, to give her brows and lashes. A darker beige to outline her nose. A couple of shades of pink for her lips, and of course a baby blue for her watery depths of eyes.

I sketched out the entire quilt, using colored pencils for the thread lines. I played with the size of the stitches, trying to get consistent spacing, and small enough to create the pic, but large enough I wouldn’t get frustrated (remember, I am still fairly new to the “quilting” process). Finally I had a plan that worked! I could hang the paper sketch pattern on my drawing board, walk across the room, and see just her beautiful face, and not the stitching. But, when I walked closer, I could see her clear blue eyes, the slight tip of the corners of her mouth, the waves in her hair. I could see the edges of each section of the pic, the background, the border, the sleeve, the hair, the face. The “stitching” was small, but not annoyingly so, and even – I think I can do this!

The next issue was what fabric to use – or in other words “what to do??” I decided muslin would have little balls of threads that could cause my stitching to wander, and then the whites of her eyes would not be white! Plain white cotton was a possibility, but seemed so, well, plain. Finally, I found a fat quarter with a slight texture, it wasn’t florally, or too pronounced – that would work!

I finished up a few projects (see another blog – when I get time to write it – about the 4 graduation quilts). And finally I am ready to start! Wish me luck!