Thursday, April 28, 2011

Book Review: The Creative Pattern Book by Judy Martin

The Creative Pattern Book: Complete Patterns, Intriguing Ideas & Musings on the Creative ProcessThe Creative Pattern Book: Complete Patterns, Intriguing Ideas & Musings on the Creative Process by Judy Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been seeing a lot about "Shakespeare in the Park" on various quilty blogs lately. Intrigued, I looked up the quilt and it's gorgeous. Then someone mentioned what book it was in and...lo and was a book I already owned! I inherited The Creative Pattern Book: Complete Patterns, Intriguing Ideas & Musings on the Creative Process by Judy Martin from my mother when she passed away and it's been on my shelf for three years. I'd glanced through it once or twice when I first got it, but hadn't spent much time with it. The other night, I pulled it off my shelf and have now spent several nights reading through it. Figured it was time to do a review!

I actually have somewhat mixed feelings about The Creative Pattern Book, although I do give it four stars. I like it very much for where I am now in my quiltmaking journey--I've been doing it for several years, and could probably rank myself somewhere in the intermediate category. This book has some elements that suggest it's for beginners but to be very candid, if this is the first book I'd ever picked up, I suspect I'd have been scared off before I even got to the third page. Hence, my mixed feelings.

Martin's writing style is engaging and there are several excellent elements to this book that are missing in a lot of other pattern books or books on technique and skills. And the quilts are beautiful. But the text is extremely dense and the layout doesn't help it any--I could've used a few more bullet points or some such method of separating ideas out from one another and making the lists more clear.

I liked her "7 Secrets of Sewing Success." I had seen most of them before, of course, but there were a couple that I don't normally see in beginners technique books, such as #4 "Practical Point Trimming," and #7, "Finger-Press for Finesse." She comes across rather strongly in #5 "Aim for Accuracy" as she takes a potshot at the school of thought which says, essentially, "don't stress so much about perfection--you can usually fix things along the way." Instead, "Don't let anyone tell you that you can fix it later," she states unequivocally on p. 29. I don't have any issue with encouraging someone to be accurate. Yes, it does save you a lot of headaches in the long-run. But my mom taught me the "how to fix it" tricks when I was first learning to quilt, and I loved knowing those techniques. I don't need them nearly as much now as I did then as my skills have definitely improved. But I'm very afraid that if I'd been sweating perfection so much when I first started, I'd have quit in frustration. Instead, I could experience the pure joy of creation and playing with fabric for awhile, until I knew this passion had fully taken hold. Then I started working on my accuracy and made life easier for myself. Is that the long way around? Perhaps. But it worked for me.

I love the fact that not only does she have "spool ratings" for the difficulty of the quilt patterns, but that she also includes a "lightbulb" rating. The spool rating is as you would imagine: the relative difficulty of the sewing techniques needed. She points out that none of the patterns is actually all that difficult, but three spool patterns include set-in seams which can take a little doing. But the lightbulb thing? Brilliant! As she says, "One-bulb patterns are repetitive and can be made with one lobe of your brain tied behind your back." Then she goes on to say that she's not included any one-bulb patterns in the book because they bore her. Two-bulb patterns "require that you stay awake" but aren't overly difficult; and three-bulb "require the full participation of an operational brain." I've never seen that type of a rating system and I actually find it much more helpful than the more typical sewing difficulty rating. Most quilt patterns only require a few techniques to pull them off. But some patterns require a whole bunch of paying attention. I like that she's called that out right up front.

Once you get into the pattern section, I like the fact that she gives so much background information on the design choices she made along the way, including things she changed from start to finish. She also outlines information about different color choices in the variations presented. My favorite components, however, are "Ideas for Taking [name of quilt pattern] Further," and "Ideas to be Gleaned from [name of quilt pattern]." I've not really seen either of those things dealt with--at least as thoroughly--in other books. They are extremely helpful ways to look at a pattern as not just a pattern, but a learning experience.

And finally? She includes suggested quilting patterns with the designs ready to be turned into stencils. So if you're still learning how to choose quilting patterns, you aren't peering at a 6" picture in a book and holding it up to different lights trying to figure out where the stitches are. (Come on, you know you've done it!) She also spends some time discussing why different quilting patterns work with each quilt patterns and suggests others you could use as well. Excellent learning material.

I wasn't as keen on how the book was laid out--it's difficult to tell where each new quilt pattern begins. Rather than having the picture of the quilt right at the front of the pattern, it appears two or three pages in. All that separates one pattern from the next is a heading with a bar of color. They chose this layout because she starts with some overall information about the pattern in general, then gives several variations on each pattern--so the pictures show up right before their cutting and sewing instructions. Still, I would've preferred to see a picture of the quilt first before reading the background information so I'd know what she was talking about, without having to flip back three pages to check it out each time.

All in all, I did find a lot of extremely useful information in the book. It's more than just a pattern book, although the patterns are gorgeous. It was inspirational and educational as well. If the layout had been different, I probably would be even more enthusiastic.

If you're a rank beginner, you could certainly use this book. It'll just take some commitment. If you've made a few quilts and are ready for some more in-depth training, this is definitely the book for you. If you've been quilting for a long time, you'll still find lots of great information, tips, and inspiration here.

The Creative Pattern Book: Complete Patterns, Intriguing Ideas & Musings on the Creative Process

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pinwheels Progress

Pinwheels Progress
Originally uploaded by sandyquiltz
It's been awhile since I posted--sorry. I've had a lot of evening commitments lately and what time I had free I was trying to spend sewing. That being said, not a lot of sewing getting done! I've got all the pinwheels done for the center of my wallhanging. I'm partway through with the pinwheels I'm doing for the corners of the borders. The pinwheels in the center won't be set like this--I'm going to be doing white sashing to float them a little bit.

Haven't entirely decided what I'm doing with the borders yet. I'm debating a couple of possibilities--I'll make the final decision once the center is done.

And then I'll have fun with some embellishments!

I'm on the road this weekend so I'm not sure I'll get a lot more done anytime soon. Fortunately, this is an easy project to pick up where I left off anytime I can get back to it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book Review: Schnibbles Times Two, by Carrie Nelson

Schnibbles Times Two: Quilts from 5Schnibbles Times Two: Quilts from 5" or 10" Squares by Carrie Nelson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I. Love. This. Book. Carrie Nelson's Schnibbles Times Two: Quilts from 5" or 10" Squares is one of my favorite new additions to my quiltmaking library. Is it the designs? Partly. Is it that it uses those cute little precut packs we love so much? Partly. Most of my love, though, is engendered by the way the book is written. With all of the quiltmaking books on my shelf, I have never sat down and read word-for-word the basic quiltmaking instructions section that's always included. I ordered Schnibbles last summer after reading about it on several blogs. The day I got it in the mail, I sat out on my back patio with a glass of ice tea and the book in my hands and a stack of magazines beside me. I expected to take about 10 minutes flipping through the designs and then moving on to the magazines. After paging through the patterns and realizing how much I was enjoying her descriptions of the development and naming of each one, I went back to the beginning to read her introduction, and then the basic instructions. I never got to the magazines. She is a hoot. She has a way of giving the same kinds of directions as every other quiltmaking book but in a way to make you actually enjoy reading them. To whit:

"Mise en place (meeze on plahs) means to have on hand all the ingredients, already measured and prepared, so that you can cook efficiently and without interruption. We do the same thing with quilting, we just call it...what do we call it? Whatever, that's what we're going to do now," (p. 8). I love someone who approaches what we do with tongue firmly in cheek, but still taking it seriously. That's a tough balancing act and I think Carrie does it extremely well.

This book was also the first book on precuts that I've seen which actually tells you how to approach the fact that many of them come with pinked edges. I never knew whether to measure from the outside point or the inside angle. She tackles that topic in a sidebar and I loved her for it. Thanks, Carrie!

Before I ordered the book, I had a slight hesitation about buying a book that simply presents every pattern twice--one using charm packs, one using layer cakes. But yes, while I should be able to do that math myself, it's so much easier to let someone else do it. Plus, it's interesting to see how different a pattern can feel when you simply change the size of the pieces.

The patterns in this book are light-hearted, and although they're based on traditional blocks they certainly have an approach to them that falls neatly into the "modern quilting" category as well. This book has launched a lot of quilt-alongs and chatter on the blogs: you hear about Schnibbles everywhere now. In my opinion, that's with good reason. The patterns are approachable without being simplistic. Some are good for beginners while others will challenge beginners to advance further in their skills. For advanced quiltmakers, you'll still find plenty of inspiration in the colors and designs, and while you may find the patterns easier to put together, if you're looking for a challenge you will find plenty of opportunity for great quilting designs.

While I'm giving this five stars, I would say my only slight gripe with it is the same gripe I have with most other books based on pre-cuts. Almost without exception, they require two packs of whatever--two charm packs, two layer cakes, two jelly rolls. I understand that's the economy of size--you can only do so much with 40 5" squares, after all. And I know you can add from your own stash, of course, but I don't often have the right mix of colors to be able to get the equivalent of another coordinating charm pack. I'm just not much in the habit of buying two of whatever catches my eye. Maybe I should start. The fabric manufacturers are nodding their heads in excited agreement right now.

That slight gripe aside, my copy of Schnibbles Times Two is already bent and worn from being read through so many times. I'm just waiting to clear the decks of other projects before I make one of these, but it will happen before the year is out. Schnibbles Times Two: Quilts from 5" or 10" SquaresCarrie Nelson

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Monday, April 11, 2011

More progress...and a new trick

More progress--another four pinwheel blocks done. This is only half just to show you the color combo so far. Two more colors (and 8 more blocks) to go.

I tried a new trick tonight. I've seen it demo'd lots of places and it's in lots of books; I'd just never tried it myself.

Add caption
It's hard to tell from this picture, but peer very, very closely and you can see that the center of the block where all the points connect is just a little puffy. My points came together exactly as they should, but because of the bulk of the seams in the center, it pokes out a little bit. Used to be, I'd just live with it. But I decided to take the time to make it better.
 Here's the result--see how nicely the center lays? It even makes the points look even better!

So, how does that happen?

Instead of pressing the center seam all one direction, you press half of it going the opposite direction--so all the center seams are now chasing each other around the block, so to speak. You then pick apart the center where all four seams come together and press it flat. See that cute little itty bitty pinwheel? How adorable is that?

Cute, but a little bit of a pain. With a pinwheel block there's all sorts of seams coming together and it takes a bit to sort out which ones want to go in which direction. You might have to pick apart a couple of stitches as well.

But boy, does it make a difference to the block. I like this little trick!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Next Work in Progress--Pinwheel Wallhanging

Originally uploaded by sandyquiltz
I finally got going on my next project tonight--I designed a fun, simple little wallhanging for the spring/summer seasons in EQ7. It's got four sets of pinwheel blocks in four colors--sixteen in all. I plan on doing something fun with the borders and maybe some embellishments to perk it up a little bit, but my main goal is, like I said earlier, simple and fun!

It felt good to get back at my cutting table and sewing machine after a couple of week's break. I'm gone a lot of this week so I won't be making much more progress but it's a simple enough design that it shouldn't take me all that long. I'm enjoying working on this--it's cute!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

I'm working to access my QFTRU podcast stuff again. 24 hrs & I should be up and running; will get an episode out asap!