Clamming up: quilting for Bonnard

I must have made, tried and discarded a dozen different templates.

My original plan was to quilt Bonnard with a random scatter of leaves, but no matter what I tried, I just couldn’t find an assortment of leaf shapes I liked, which were the right size and which were simple enough to quilt with my not exactly tiny hand-quilting stitches. My subconscious was at work, I think, or perhaps it was the quilt, trying to gain my attention and tell me what it wanted.

And then I realised that the quilting wasn’t the point of this quilt, it was a supplementary feature, an attractive way of holding the layers together which incidentally added visual richness and texture. And there it was. I’d do a simple all-over repeat. What about a Baptist Fan, one of my favourites? Still not quite right.

I’ve come full circle, I think. I’m quilting clamshells, like my bestest and favouritest quilt of all, the one that lives on my bed. The ones on Bonnard will be larger, at 4 inches across rather than 2½ inches, but I wanted them to fit within the proportions of the squares and blocks I’ve used to make Bonnard. As an incidental bonus, the larger size will mean I get it done more quickly, and the interlocking clamshell shapes mean the stitching all travels in one direction so I won’t be twirling the quilt around. It’ll sit on the table, its own weight providing the tension I need to hold things flat, and I won’t be draped in acres of cosy quilt at this hottest time of year. As an extra benefit, my plain white teacup is exactly the right size to form the template I mark around, plus it won’t bend and deteriorate like a card template.

Win-win all round, I’d say.

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Noodlin’ about

Not quite as aimless and lazy as it sounds, actually.

I used the pool noodle method to layer and spray baste the Bonnard quilt. I got it done in the space of about 2 hours, a record! Plus I don’t have a stinkin’ backache, pricked and sore fingers or pin holes in the fabric. I didn’t do it exactly the way shown on the YouTube video which gave me the idea, which I think would need two people to be successful with a quilt this size, just to keep things taut and smooth. I broke it down into two stages. Here’s how.

First job was to assemble my noodles. I’m using regular foam pool noodles. I cut and fitted together one whole noodle and part of another so they were the exact width of the backing. They’ll cut with an ordinary sharp kitchen knife, no special equipment needed. Then, to stop them bending in the middle, I pushed a broomstick up the centre channel, which also held the extended section on; it’s a tight fit.

Then I taped the backing good side down to the edge of the table, and pulled the rest of it across the table and smoothed it down, taping the first 24 inches of the sides as well, to hold things flat. On top of this I laid the edge of the batting and pulled the rest of that across the table too, so both layers lay flat and reasonably smooth. At this point, I took the decision that I wouldn’t attempt to do the quilt top as well, as I didn’t feel confident I could get all three layers smooth. So on this pass, I layered and basted only the backing and batting.

I pinned the edge of the batting to the noodle, and rolled the batting up carefully, ensuring it was straight by checking the edges. I then sprayed the leading, taped, edge of the backing, aligned the batting to the taped edge and carefully unrolled to the edge of the sprayed area, smoothing the batting onto the backing, spreading in an outwards motion from the centre. I was careful to cover any exposed parts of both the batting and backing, as well as the table top. I untaped the edge of the backing and pulled it down so a new section was on the table top.

I continued spraying a section, unrolling and smoothing the batting, until I reached the opposite side, exposing the edge of the batting pinned to the noodle. I unpinned, smoothed out this final section, and trimmed away excess batting flush with the edge of the backing.

I then pinned this flush edge to the noodle and rolled backing and batting together onto the noodle except for the final table-width. I then took the quilt top, and right side up, aligned the top edge with the top edge of the batting/backing but leaving about 1.25 inches of backing clear. I then rolled the remainder of the quilt top onto a second noodle.

After that, it was a repeat of the backing. Spray a section, smooth out, pull forward, spray the next section, etc. Finally, I flipped the sandwich over and smoothed out the backing again, as it became a little wrinkled while the top was going on.

If you want to try this yourself, you’ll need:

Pressed and smoothed quilt top and backing, and batting cut to size
Masking tape
2 – 4 pool noodles, depending on how big your quilt is
2 broom sticks or pieces of dowel the same size
Glass head pins (not as big as flower head, but easier to extract from the foam than dressmaker’s pins)
8 – 10 sheets of butcher’s paper or a plastic drop sheet
Spray baste ( I use 505)
A large table in a clean, dry area with no wind to blow the spray about.
Fabric scissors

If you haven’t tried this before, I urge you to give it a go, especially if you’re over the floor grovelling needed for pin basting. Actually, if you’re sensitive to the spray, this process would work quite well for thread basting too, but you’ll need a curved upholstery needle for the quickest results.

Job done. Smooth layers, trimmed out, and ready to start hand quilting.  I must go and find my hoop…

Bonnard back

‘Tis done.

It went nice and quickly. I did a bunch of strip piecing and then sewed a lot of random leftover squares together to make other strips. Jumble them up, make sure there’s one of the random strips in each set, sew it all up, stitch the red fabric to the sides and there you have it.

Next is cutting the batting to size from my big roll, and then sandwiching. Normally with a quilt this size I’d be pin basting, but I want to have a go at spray basting, as I think the pins will drive me mad while I’m hand quilting. The one slight problem is that I don’t have anywhere outside that’s big enough and clean enough to lay the quilt out flat. Our weather’s very hot, very dry and everywhere’s very dusty. I think it’ll have to be a couple of picnic tables on the back patio, working fast so I don’t die of heatstroke, and I’ll have to work section by section.

I’ve seen a video tutorial where you wind each of the three layers onto pool noodles with a dowel rod up the centre to stiffen them, layer them up as usual and then unroll just a short section of the backing, spray, roll the batting across it, smooth and spray, and then roll the top across it, and smooth and spray that. It seemed sort of straightforward (famous last words…), so I got myself some noodles in the post-Christmas sales for the princely sum of $4 each. Bonnard is wider than the length of the noodle, so I shall have to cut a section from a spare to add to the end to extend it. I’ll let you know how I get on, and provide a link if it’s successful.

Time to go and cut batting and fluff it up in the tumble dryer to get rid of the creases.

Bonnard, top complete

At last, all 1,024 squares sewn together.

Mostly, this went together painlessly. I did take out two squares which stood out too much, and replaced them with less bright or solid colours. Fiddly, but to my mind, extremely worth it. My eye no longer catches on them. Here and there are squares which don’t  line up exactly, but I’m OK with that too, as none of the mismatches are extreme and you really don’t see them unless you look hard. And who does that unless they’re trying to find fault?

I have now got backing fabric in a lovely warm red. It’s a sort of foxy red, no pink in it at all, heading towards orange, but still clearly red. No pattern to it, but it’s hard to find exactly what you want when your options are so limited. I also have quite a lot of the warm reddish fabrics I used for the highlight squares, so I’m considering a strip of those down the middle. I have to join the fabric pieces anyway, so why not make a virtue of a necessity? I’m still working on ideas for how to hand quilt this, but I’m not going to rush into anything unless I’m happy it’ll complement the concept behind this quilt.

I’m taking a short break from Bonnard for a bit. There are a couple of other things I need to work on. Next month I’ll be starting the quilting on ST&D once the final blocks are in, and I have some hand stitching, hand quilting and embroidery to concentrate on. And in February, we go on leave!  Something I’m looking forward to enormously, and a break we both badly need.

 Don’t worry, though, Bonnard will be back soon.

Bonnard, and a brief break

I’ve been working away in the background on Bonnard.

This is where I left you, the centre and first two rounds done.

And here’s where I’m up to now, the centre and nearly three rounds done. Of course, each round is larger than the last, so everything goes a lot slower the closer you get to the outside! I thought I’d need another round, but actually, I’ll be happy to leave it at the size I originally planned. The graduation works, and I don’t want it to get too pale around the outside. The outer blocks on the left have been stitched, but on the right the squares are all still pinned. I still have two rows of squares to place at top and bottom. It’s a lengthy, leisurely process…

Yup, it’s definitely looking wonky, but is actually pretty straight when I’ve got it pinned right. That row on the right looks really crazy!

I really like how this quilt top is coming along. I think the wash of colour from dark centre to light outside is working well, as is the change of colour balance from rich, intense tones to delicate, watery pastels. Mixed throughout are the pings of warm colour, like sequins of sunlight on leaves in the centre and vibrant water-washed rocks and autumn leaves on the outside. The batik prints recall moss, lichen, flowing and dripping water, leaves warm and cool, sunlight, flowers, stone, soil, and here and there, a flicker of flame. I hope it evokes the life of the forest…

There’s still a fair bit of placing and piecing to go as you can see, but the final character of the quilt is making itself plain. I’m beginning to think about what I want to do about the quilt back, and more importantly, the quilting. The back will either be all one fabric with a ‘filler’ pattern (I’m thinking dark green with a small leaf pattern if I can find something suitable), or alternatively, a deep red, but I’m tending towards green at the moment. The other option is a filler pattern, but with a pieced strip up the centre, using leftover squares.

For the quilting, I’m going to hand quilt a small, simple leaf design in each square. I’ve got 4 different leaf templates so they won’t all be the same, and I’m also thinking about how to arrange the direction of each leaf. I’ve drawn up a few plans showing the leaf designs arranged in formal geometric patterns, but I’m not terribly enthused about them. I’ll think on it some more…

If I can keep up the pace I’ve managed so far, I should have the top done by the New Year. But now, it’s time for a short break for Christmas 🙂

Bonnard 4: a slight change of plan

Well, you know me. Not one to faff around if something’s not working…

Here’s Bonnard again, one 16-patch strip deeper all round. Top and bottom the blocks are stitched together, down the sides they’re still pinned to the design wall. 8 blocks to go till that round is finished.

Those white squares in the corners are little notes, to remind me which is left and right, top and bottom. It’s not at all obvious!

Originally the plan was for one more strip round after that, but I don’t think it’ll be enough. To achieve the smooth graduation I want, I think I need two more rounds. It’ll make the quilt a little larger, but I think the result will be worth the extra effort.

My original thought was to make the rest of the quilt in large 64-patch squares. I made a start, and oh dearie me, what a mess. There were little squares of fabric everywhere, I couldn’t stay on top of the warm colour placement… It was a good idea in theory, but I couldn’t make it work. Plus, I’d already knocked a large tray of sorted stacks of squares off my cutting table, resulting in a blizzard of jumbled squares and bad language, and the idea of repeating that with even more colours was just too much. Welcome to Klutzville…

So despite my reservations about doing the rest of the quilt in strips, that’s what I’m doing. Despite the previously-described disadvantages, it does mean I can more easily manage the colour graduation from dark to light and light to dark, balance the quantities of each colour and ensure that the values remain even all round. I have the next batch of fabrics sorted for cutting, and the next round will be a mixture of these and the remaining squares from the round shown above, so the colours are definitely now getting noticeably paler.

Give me a couple of weeks, and I’ll be thinking about how to quilt this baby. An idea is emerging already, but I have to put pencil to paper to see if I can make a go of it.

Bonnard 3: a quarter done

It’s looking good, don’t you think?

Can you see how the colours are starting to fade a little around the outside and the warm colours are getting stronger? That’s the plan…

The assembly is going better than I hoped. Being very particular about accurate cutting and seam allowances is paying off. There are a few seams which are about 1/16–1/8 inch off, but nothing more than that. The photo makes the piece look wonky because I had to take it from an angle instead of straight on, and it’s pinned to a piece of fabric, but in fact it’s miraculously square 🙂

This piece is 32 inches square, and the finished quilt will be 64 inches square, so I’m a quarter of the way through it. The quilt will grow from its outer edges, but I don’t want to add thin strip after thin strip, that way lies madness and inevitable seam mismatches. My plan is now to make a series of squares composed of 16 patch blocks, join those into strips, and then add them to the central square. That way, errors will not be compounded into one enormous and obvious bodge at the outer edge. It’s also a more accurate and manageable way to assemble the pieces, since long strips have a nasty tendency to stretch along one edge, whereas squares hold their shape better.

I have one batch of mid-strength colours still to cut, and then we’re into the paler set, and the stronger batch of warm colours. I have to be careful to keep in mind the direction each square will run and where it sits in relation to the centre. For a quilt that has no overall design, this is certainly quite a mentally demanding piece. I’m making liberal use of scraps of paper with arrows on, pinned to the fabrics and the quilt top.

Right, it’s election day here in Queensland, and I have to go and cast my vote. They’re all grasping, tunnel-visioned scoundrels, but some are worse than others, so it’s a question of picking the least of all evils…