Cosmatesque # 4: the next ring

The central circle is now appliquéd onto its light background ring, ready for the next stage.

Outer ring segment

Lower left quarter coloursOuter ring piecesThis is the beginning of the second, outer ring. It feels as if it’s going to take forever… A small exaggeration, but there’s a lot of very small bits there. The large triangles alternate dark umber and slate, the small triangles alternate charcoal and golden amber, separated by a zigzag of limestone. Fiddly in the extreme, especially the zigzag, which has to be made up of two pieces. I considered making large limestone triangles and then appliquéing everything else to them, but it wasn’t successful; the fabric was too floppy to get nice straight lines, so I’ve persisted with the EPP method, which has the virtue of producing completely consistent shapes so long as you’re meticulous in how you sew the bits together.

There was some useful learning from the first circle:

•  When making the triangles, fold down and stitch the edge which will be on the outside last. This means that all the excess will be pointing away from the outside edge.
•  Press everything away from what will be the inner and outer edges.
•  Trim seam allowances down as much as possible before joining the shapes, especially on corners
•  Don’t stress if things don’t line up exactly. You can always unpick a bit of basting and ease out some of the seam allowance to make things line up.
•  Do not press pieces basted with polyester thread too hot. You will melt the thread onto the fabric. Don’t ask how I know this, it’s a sore subject 😦

Sore enough, in fact, that it has meant I had to replace my iron. It has seen a lot of action, spent hundreds of long, long hours switched on, and was now regularly overheating, leaking boiling hot water onto my feet, tripping the household power socket fuse (entailing tedious trips down two flights of stairs and outside to the power board) and showing clear signs of corrosion on the charging pins (it was a cordless version, and had to be returned to the stand to reheat after every use). However, since I bought it on special offer about three years ago when it was on sale at one third of the normal price, I had bought two. Out with the old, in with the new. I must admit it feels a bit safer now, and I’m not missing the smell of burning insulation or the scalded feet….

In a recent post, Esther over at ipatchandquilt used a fantastic craquelure print on a block she was making for one of the F2F members.  I saw it and immediately knew it would be perfect for this project, so she’s very kindly sending me half a metre when it’s my turn to receive my F2F blocks in May.  I’m just waiting to hear if there’s anything I can make or do for her in return…

Once this big ring is done, that’s the end of the most fiddly EPP part of this piece. There are other rings, but they’re much simpler.  Soon, I’ll be able to move on to FPP, and progress will be much faster.

But first, back to lots and lots of tiny stitches!


Cosmatesque #3

Circles within circles, wheels within wheels…

Central circle

Lower left quarter colours Templates copied onto card Inner circle templatesThe central circle is assembled. The shapes (apart from the white triangles) were a bit small and fiddly, and every single one had a curved edge some-where, but I got better at lining things up as I went along. The trickiest bits were joining the amber triangle to the blue triangle above it, since I was joining two curves, but I discovered how best to get it done and the joins are tidy. Actually, the worst part was ensuring that the inner curve of the ring where it joins the red fabric was smooth, and as you can see, I wasn’t totally successful… Since I took that photo, I’ve actually gone back and improved the curve by unpicking and restitching a small section.

I’ve robbed some fabrics from my Steampunk collection, which is seriously stalled in any case. There are some great textured and marbled fabrics in there, perfect for this application, so I feel justified.

Next, I have to add a white ring to the outside of this. The ring after that will be a bit more laborious – there are all those small straight pieces which form the zigzag between the triangles. But they’re simple, and it makes good TV watching handwork. I can make use of time when my hands would otherwise be idle. The colours are limestone, slate, charcoal, dark umber and golden amber again. The four final corner pieces will be dark cobalt and dark red.

And I’ll be trying very, very hard not to keep hearing ‘The Windmills of Your Mind’ in my head while I work…

Cosmatesque #2

The first quarter template…

Cosmatesque final planThere’s no point attempting to draft the template for this piece all in one go; it’s 48 inches square and I simply don’t have a flat surface that size (apart from the floor, and I’m not up to grovelling around down there any more). So I’ve divided it into 24 inch square quarters, which still fit on my cutting table. Luckily the design divides neatly into equal quarters, so I just need to make each one and then piece them together. “Just…”, she says airily, as though it were the work of moments.

Extension arm compassI decided to start with the most difficult section first. With that out of the way, the rest of the sections will seem much easier. So it’s the bottom left hand corner, a series of concentric rings with inset triangles. I have a set of good compasses, from small to large, with an extension arm. Just as well, really – do you have any idea how tricky it is to draw an accurate 20 inch circle, even with an extension arm on the compass?  The thing just wobbles, spreads, dislodges and generally misbehaves. But the template’s done. The next thing will be to make a tracing or duplicate of each ring, which I’ll then mount on cartridge paper and cut out to make the papers for EPP (English Paper Piecing*) the triangles.

At least, that’s the plan for now. I’m still wondering if I can do it with FPP (Foundation Paper Piecing†), but just now I’m tending against it, because of the trickiness of matching up all the pieced segments. You can adjust a little with EPP, but over a piece this size, FPP errors tend to magnify.

Explanation of terms for non-quilters, including the quilt’s new owner:

*EPP: fabric is wrapped around a card template and basted/tacked on. The covered templates are then joined edge to edge with tiny hand stitching through the fabric only, and once fully assembled, the basting/tacking is pulled out and the templates removed. This is the process used for traditional hexagon quilts.

†FPP: fabric is stitched directly onto a paper foundation, along drawn or printed lines. This ensures a lot of accuracy of individual pieces, but this shape has to be made up of many sections, and joining these sections can be a little inaccurate (when I do it, anyway!), so that points do not meet and things slip a little. The paper is torn away from the back of the piece once it is fully assembled, which is a laborious job in itself.

I need to start auditioning fabrics now, as very soon I’ll be able to make a start on assembly. I need a good tone-on-tone white. Flat, solid white will not look right, it needs a texture. If I could get a marbled white that would be ideal, but I’ve never seen such a thing (if anyone out there has, let me know asap, please?), and a tone-on-tone print will be the next best thing. I also need a warm deep red, a dark cobalt blue, a granite grey and a limestone beige, all marbled or textured batiks. And if anything else catches my eye, I’ll grab a bit of that too. This quilt won’t need large quantities of anything except the background white, I just need to be careful I don’t run out of any of the fabrics with one triangle to go!

Time to put away the ruler and compasses for a bit, and fetch out the scissors, needle and thread.


Cosmatesque #1

OK, the name needs a bit of explanation.

According to Wikipedia:

Cosmatesque, or Cosmati, is a style of geometric decorative inlay stonework typical of the architecture of Medieval Italy, and especially of Rome and its surroundings, and derived from that of the Byzantine Empire. It was used most extensively for the decoration of church floors, but was also used to decorate church walls, pulpits, and bishop’s thrones. The name derives from the Cosmati, the leading family workshop of marble craftsmen in Rome who created such geometrical decorations.

You’ll recall my post of a couple of days ago, talking about how today we are using the same patterns in patchwork as the Romans and Byzantines used in their mosaic floors. It seems Italy’s medieval craftsmen had the same idea for their own floors, and the style they developed has attained its own name. And I’m hijacking it.

If you Google the name Cosmatesque, you’ll be rewarded with multiple gorgeous images of fabulous geometric floors. I spent hours searching, clicking, pinning and printing. OK, I admit it. There’s another quilt in the pipeline.

cosmatesque planIt’s going to be fiendishly tricky; all those wedges, circles, intersecting lines and teeny weeny blocks are not my normal comfort zone, but it’s going to be a tremendous challenge. I need to find out how to do this stuff without the ease of copying someone else’s pattern, or using multiple expensive specialist rulers, or geometric formulae. Subject to the approval of its intended new owner, my colour palette will be simple: deep warm red, dark cobalt blue, granite grey, limestone beige, on a white background. I’m echoing the palette of the original floors. My fabric choices will be marbled batiks and textured solids; there’s not much room for patterns here.

cosmatesque design pageAnd it’s going to be small – for me, that is – at 48 inches square. It’s intended to be a piece of wall art to remind its owner of her ‘specialist subject’. It’s for my eldest niece, Lecturer in Medieval Studies at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. For many years, she’s spent months every summer rootling around in archaeological digs, and has seen and uncovered more mosaic floors than you’d believe. It’s rare that our spheres of activity collide, and now that I have found a point of common interest, I intend to play with it!

So as usual, I’ll be recording my discoveries, my decisions and my progress as this quilt grows. I have a LOT to learn, and will have to attain a much more stringent level of accuracy than I normally get away with. I’ll have to decide on a section-by-section basis how I’m going to make each part (hand stitched, machine sewn, EPP, foundation paper piecing and appliqué are all possible/probable). Fortunately, due to its relatively small size, it’s not going to take me a tremendously long time, but I’m not going to skimp on attention to detail and accuracy. And then of course, there’s the decision on how to quilt it. Machine, or by hand? Invisible or feature? Dense or light? Well, you get the idea.

I think there’s another Book of the Quilt coming on…