Saturday, October 26, 2019

Giving Orphans and Home: Medallions

Welcome to part three of Giving Orphans a Home, where we talk about different ways to use orphan blocks in a quilt. Today I'm going to show you a couple of different medallion style quilts.

Primarily Pineapple. This one big pineapple block was donated to Covered in Love and I thought it would make a sweet center medallion! A large, rectangular block like this is ideal to start building borders around.

I went looking through the big stack of orphans for blocks that had green or yellow like the fruity center, and found lots with red and blue as well. So I decided this one would have a primary colors theme, with just a bit of the green. There were enough of these hourglass blocks to go all the way around the pineapple as the first border. See the snowman peeking out? So cute!

The next batch of blocks that I thought would look great in this quilt are these scrappy ones. I think this block is called Crown of Thorns? The dominant color is red, which coordinates nicely with the reds in the hourglass layer. The creamy neutrals work well with the yellow pineapple, too. However, I didn't have enough of these to make a complete border. But there were enough for two side borders, which is half the battle.

To fill out the top and bottom I just needed another set of blocks. The wonderful thing about scrappy quilts is that blocks don't have to be matchy-matchy, they just have to be kinda friendly! These fun crumb/pinwheel blocks certainly had the right stuff to be good friends with the red blocks. While the colors are a little less obviously primary, the reds and yellows seem to jump out because of the other blocks already in the quilt. Don't we all influence our friends like that? I chose bright yellow binding to also carry that sunny color from center pineapple to crumb blocks to the outer edge.

Even though there weren't enough of any one style of block to go all the way around the center after the inner hourglass border, the overall look is still of a surrounded center medallion. I think it helps that the size and colors of the additional blocks are similar to each other. And with 6 of one block and 8 of the other, there's enough symmetry so it looks intentional. Scrappy dark blue sashings hold it together and allow a bit of wiggle room to account for blocks being slightly different sizes.

And because this is the first time I'm sharing these quilts on my blog, I'm including photos of the backs. I like to document the whole quilt this way. This back is pretty simple, just some soft yellow plaid and pale blue paisley fabrics that were given to me by my DH's aunt. I quilted a couple of different fillers, including wishbones, crosshatching and stippling.

Kat provides me with Covered in Love labels to sew onto the backing, and I also add my own satin tag. If I know the name(s) of the block donors, I write them on the label with permanent marker. 

For another great example of using one big orphan block as a center medallion, check out Carole's house quilt over on Sarah's blog: (And notice the fabulous all-orphan block quilt at the end of that post, too!)

Pop of Purple. Here's a way to do a medallion style when you don't really have a big central block: use a group of smaller blocks. The center blocks here are all about 14". That's an awkward size, isn't it? But I had four that all included a pretty, dusty purple so they clearly were meant to be together!

Now if I had six purple blocks, that would make a nice rectangular center, but I only had the four. I also had a bunch of wonky little flying geese and those six log cabins. Small but so sweet! Putting them above and below the four central blocks added a bit of height to keep the quilt from being a square. This is starting to feel like it could work!

All the simple border squares in fall colors were donated to CiL as four patch blocks, so those were a great next layer. But there weren't quite enough to go all the way around. So I added the four "cornerstone" blocks and zip, zip, zoom! This quilt was finished!

Once again, a bit of sashing helps to get the math to work out right and adjust around a few wonky blocks.

The back of this one is super-duper scrappy. The quilting is soft and loose for cuddliness and the binding is an Asian-inspired stripe.

A couple more orphan blocks ended up on the back, too. They were the right autumnal color family, but a really odd size, so they formed their own little secret backing club. I was kind of an "odd size" kid (and a real square!) myself, so I understand the value of having a friend to hang with. 

Here's another fun example of using a group of blocks as a center medallion, from Cynthia's blog. She took four octagonal blocks and added a juicy orange background for this happy little top.

And here's one of Cynthia's with snowball blocks as the center and various other orphans surrounding. Such yummy colors! The black sashing really makes that medallion stand out.

With five of one block and four of another, Cathy made this super nine patch medallion out of red, white and blue star blocks. She surrounded the square center with what she calls "happy blocks" then added extra rows to bring the quilt to a rectangular shape. Such a great use of orphans, all around!

Whether they are the central star or surrounding supportive cast, I hope some of these examples get you thinking about how to use your orphan blocks in a medallion style quilt. Come back soon for more ideas as I continue this series on on how to give orphans a home!

If you missed it, here are the first two parts of this series:

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Giving Orphans a Home: (Almost) Enough Blocks

Welcome to part two of Giving Orphans a Home. Today I'm going to share a few techniques for dealing with a big batch of orphan blocks that are almost, but not quite, enough for a full quilt.

This is Grandpa's Plaid Shirts. When I saw all the blocks for this quilt together in a big ziplock baggie, I knew it was one of the first ones I would tackle. I just love all the soft plaids, flannels and homespuns! These nine blocks are each a nine patch of sub-blocks, and came to me in a combination of completed big blocks and a pile of sub-blocks.

Here's one of the blocks that came to me completed: nine four patches set on point. If you look at the finished quilt, you can see there were also finished big blocks made up of all flying geese, all rail fence, and all whatever that block is in the far right of the middle row. (Anybody know the name of that one?)

Also in the baggie were a bunch of sub-blocks, but fewer than nine of each: windmills, pinwheels, broken dishes, four patches, nine patches, and more. I think the intent was for there to be 12 big blocks, each made of a single style sub-block, and someone gave up two-thirds of the way there.

What to do? One option was to try to make more of each sub-block type until I had nine each of 12 types. But I have almost no plaids in my stash and wanted to get this quilt finished quickly. I decided the plaids were busy enough that no one would really notice if a big block was made of, say, four windmills and five broken dishes. So I started combining all the little pieces together, figuring as long as some symmetry was maintained, it would be JUST FINE. And you know what? It IS! It isn't as quite as big, but at 60"x60" is a good size for Covered in Love. And it's a finished quilt, ready to comfort a family rather than muttering and mumbling pieces in a ziplock baggie.

The cream sashing, which was a yardage donation to Covered in Love, plus some pale blue cornerstones, corrals each block into just enough scrappy plaid goodness, allowing me to use every single sub-block. I was short just one. A gold star if you can find the chunky churn dash in "close enough" fabrics! Edited to add: Since I wrote this post, I've learned that the plaid shirt blocks were made by Holly. Big thanks to Holly for making such fun pieces and donating them to Covered in Love!

And because this is the first time the quilt has been documented on my blog, here are a few more details. I quilted it with a simple loose stipple and bound it in the same light blue plaid as the cornerstones. 

The back is a combination of a pretty blue swirly paisley that was donated to Covered in Love, and a panel chock full of fish. I thought that might appeal to the kind of guy who wore plaid shirts. The fish fabric was given to me by Cynthia of Quilting is More Fun than Housework.

Next up is Snowballs and Chicken Panels. Those are my DH's chicken feet underneath. This one is an example of how to use a panel or two (or four!) to fatten up a group of blocks that aren't enough for an entire quilt.

Approximately 120 finished snowball blocks were donated to CiL. Each one was either a dark center with light corners, or a light center with dark corners. They were beautifully made, very evenly sized and all the corners were properly pressed to the dark fabric. I knew stitching them together would go so smoothly! In addition, a big batch of centers and precut corner triangles were donated. For a brief moment, I considered finishing up the rest of the snowballs. Then I sat down and had a cool beverage until that thought went away. I KNEW my snowballs wouldn't be as precise and it just sounded....tedious. Surely 120 was enough for an entire quilt? That's so many blocks! But at 4.5" finished block size, it wasn't going to be enough for a CiL quilt.

Chickens to the rescue! This panel is called Three French Hens, and it has the same sort of old-fashioned, farm house vibe of the scrappy snowball fabrics. By using a combination of trimming the panels and adding skinny borders in light blue, I made them equal to five snowballs in width, and three in height. This allowed me to use all the premade snowballs plus only a handful more of my own.

And as I predicted, those snowballs were super easy to sew into rows and columns. I do love the way the center section looks with the alternating dark and light blocks, and maybe someday I'll make an entire quilt of this style. But for today, they are playing with chickens and hopefully bringing a little comfort.

The back and binding on this one used up the last of the blue plaid from Grandpa's Plaid Shirts. Once I start cutting up yardage, I'm often motivated to just use it up completely. Does that happen to you? 

So the plaid blocks became a complete quilt by combining them differently and reducing the size from the original design. And the snowballs got plumped up with some fun panels. Another option that always works is to add simple borders. If there had been a few more snowballs, I might have just added a few rounds of coordinating blenders as inner borders and a nice floral outer border. 

Adding top and bottom rows of different blocks can also stretch a set of "not quite enough" blocks. For a great example of this, check out Cathy's bright, happy flimsy here.

Have you used any of these techniques to stretch some orphan blocks? Let me know in the comments!

The next installment of Giving Orphans a Home will explore some medallion style options. And if you missed it, here's the introduction of this series.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Giving Orphans a Home: Introduction and Simple Sashing

Welcome to a new series here called "Giving Orphans a Home." As you may know, one of my favorite charities is Covered in Love. CiL was started by Kat of Kat & Cat Quilts, and provides comfort quilts to patients who pass away in the hospital.

Hundreds of quilts have made their way into the arms of grieving families, providing a quilty hug during a difficult time. Those quilts come to Kat in several different forms: as completely finished pieces, as flimsies, and as individual blocks. Blocks can be part of Kat's regular block drives, or from her quilting bees, or donated from a contributor's own batch of left over blocks.

As you can imagine, after a couple of years of receiving these "orphaned" blocks, Kat has quite a collection! They are all sizes, colors and designs. Fabrics range from muted reproductions to solids and blenders to the latest angular modern design. What they all share, though, is a desire to go to work in a Covered in Love quilt. (Full disclosure: I serve on the Board of Trustees of Covered in Love.)

I've been working away in my little studio for several months, playing with a huge, 10 lb batch of these orphan blocks. I thought I'd share some of the things I've learned. Maybe it will help you tackle your own batch of orphans.

First, I'd like to set some ground rules:

1. All Orphans Are Beautiful

Blocks end up in the orphanage for a lot of different reasons. Perhaps the quilter made too many for a project. Of course she/he would choose the very best blocks to go into their own project! The ones left behind might be the ones that aren't quite the right size. Or the ones with less than ideal contrast. Or the ones with a piece sewn in backwards. Maybe a point was chopped off. Or the block was distorted by ironing and isn't square anymore.

On the other hand, maybe the orphan was a test block, a one-of-a-kind experiment. It could be a perfect block, but lonely! Maybe the quilter made many very nice blocks, but lost interest in the project. Or really loves to piece blocks but isn't so keen on putting together flimsies.

Maybe they made almost enough blocks, but ran out of the coordinating fabrics. We've all been there, right? The point is that I will probably never know the history of the block, so I try not to assume that there's anything wrong with these blocks at all. Not my taste? Someone loves these colors! Odd size? Maybe the quilter makes ALL her blocks 8 1/8" x 7 7/8"! Very avant-garde!

A good orphan block quilt is like a choir. Not every voice can be a soloist. But combining these blocks with other, friendly orphans allows them to blend and make beautiful music. And even a few clunky harmonies can be charming, if performed with enthusiasm or a bit of distracting dancing!

So if you look at one of my finished quilts and think, "Huh. I can see why THAT block was donated," remember that each block is beautiful in its own way. On the other hand, if you look at one of my quilts and think, "Huh. That's one ugly quilt," blame my design skills, not the blocks!

2. All Orphans Are Useful

OK, so we've established that they are all lovely and they just need some friends to help them soar. How do you get 8 1/8" blocks to play nicely with 8.5" ones? After all, we need a relatively flat, square finished quilt.

My assumption is that the block maker wanted this block to end up in a quilt. So I figure that each block is willing to undergo a certain amount of surgery to make the cut, so to speak. The following actions do not harm the blocks: Trimming down, even if points are lost. Adding uneven borders to make into a square. Giving up on a technique/shape, such as cutting Dresdens into a circle. Changing the shape completely, such as cutting squares into triangles or vice versa. Repeat: No Blocks Were Harmed in the Making of These Quilts.

And never forget that the back of the quilt plays an important role, too! Some blocks are natural introverts and would rather snooze quietly on the reverse side.

3. All Orphans Are Respected

And finally, it's important to remember that these blocks were donated to Covered in Love. Not just any charity, but that specific one. So out of respect for that, I keep these orphans separated from the rest of my stash. I can ADD to these blocks, but not subtract. Kat also sent me yardage to use for backings, and that is also used only for CiL quilts.

There are a few, minor exceptions to this rule. Small trimmings from the backings do get folded into my own stash of random strings. I will sadly discard blocks that are obviously stained or have rips/holes in the fabric. And if I've made my best effort to use a block, but botched it completely, it might get thrown away. I accidentally sliced one block in half because it was hiding under something else. It didn't lend itself to repair, so I gave myself permission to scrap it completely. Sorry, anonymous block donor! I'll try not to do that again!

OK! Now that all that introductory stuff is out of the way, let's look at one of the most straight-forward ways to put orphans together.

Simple Sashing

I've shared these two quilts before here on the blog, so they might look familiar. (Click here and here to read more about them.) For each one, I had enough blocks of similar size, color, and theme to put them into a simple grid layout. I used sashing and cornerstones (sometimes called the "Puss in the Corner" block design) to bring each square block to the same size. 

This autumnal quilt plays nicely together because half the blocks are the printed "cheater" panels that look like fancy applique. They anchor the design so the other, more random blocks, can fill in the other spaces. I also chose muted reds for many of the sashing/cornerstone pieces and the binding for blending purposes.

For these diverse patriotic stars, I added an inner stop border and a scrappy squares outer border to bring the whole quilt up to a good size for CiL. The red inner border kind of corrals all the diversity and helps the eye see that each block contains a bit of red. Even though each star is quite different, their colors and starry essence gives them cohesion.

For the next installment of Giving Orphans a Home, I'll share some brand new quilts and another design technique. I hope you'll come back and visit!