Get Out of that Box!

Once upon a time, a long time ago, when I was an educator, somewhere during the late ‘80’s or early ‘90’s the catch phrase, “Think outside the box,” came into play.  This four-word phrase was bandied about quite a bit, not only in the teaching arena, but the business world also had its fair share of the words.  Workshops were held to teach people how to “think outside the box.”  Books were written.  Articles and talk TV pushed the “out of the box” agenda.

The first thing about the “box” was defining it.  It wasn’t a box as we know it (like what all our Amazon goodies come in).  The “box” represented the status quo.  And to stop using the status quo, you had to think creatively.  In my field (education), it meant employing different teaching techniques to meet the learning needs of your students.  It meant (sometimes) abandoning the lesson plan and employing a more kinetic-type of class room. In other words, the mind set of “We do it this way because we’ve always done ______ this way,” was no longer an excuse not to be effective.  The times demanded change and that change (to whatever field) had to work better and be more effective than the past.

Did it work?  Sometimes.  In the teaching field there was some big breakthroughs.  The point was, we were finally given permission to use other creative learning techniques in the classroom. 

That’s what I want to do in the next blog or two.  I want to help quilters begin to “think out of the quilting box.”  I’ve played around with this idea a bit in 2018, when I confronted the myth of the quarter-inch seam and a few other standard quilting rules.  But what I want to do with the next few blogs is to challenge you to think out of the box as a quilt artist.  Making a quilt is more than just choosing the fabric and then working towards that last binding stitch.  It’s an entire creative process and sometimes it’s good for the soul to change up the plan.  This is not only what makes for a good quilt, it makes for an innovative and creative quilter, and becoming a better quilter should be just as much of a goal as making a better quilt. 

So, let’s start at the beginning – or at least my usual beginning – and that’s the pattern.  On rare occasions I will find a fabric and design a quilt around it.  However, most of the time, I find or design a pattern and then pick out the material.  Usually the pattern has some type of applique on it, since that’s my first love.  The first thing I do with the pattern is pull out the direction sheet and read it through.  This gives me the GPS coordinates to my destination — my finished quilt.  Then I Google the pattern to see if anyone else has made the quilt, blogged about it, or better yet – has a YouTube video on it.  This can let me know if there are errors in the pattern, or if it’s simply a pain in the butt to make.  Either of those (depending on the error or the degree of the PITB) may make me re-think the quilt.

From there those GPS directions are merely a suggestion.  I may not opt to take the closest path from point A to point B.  I may determine an alternate route.  I may decide to take the scenic route.  For instance, see this seam?

This is called a Y-seam.  In order to make that, there is a series of starts a quarter-inch from the edge as well as stops a quarter-inch from the edge and then setting that piece into other pieces.  If that sounds a little complicated, well, it is…sort of.  It’s definitely not a beginner quilter technique.  In Harriet Hargrave’s Quilter’s Academy series, it’s not taught until the fourth book.  I can execute the technique, but I’ll be honest with you – I hate Y-seams.  Hate them.  And why do them if you can make some half-square triangles that can be positioned to look like a Y-seam without the hassle? 

Both of these quilts look as if they have complicated Y-seams. Nope. No Y-seams in either quilt. It’s all Half-Square triangles.

I can make HSTs all day and make them very well and produce the desired look a lot faster than I can make a Y-seam.  If the quilt is not show-bound, I will change up the pattern to use HST if Y-seams are involved.  However, if I do plan on entering the quilt in a show, I will stick to the Y-seam.  Why?  It’s more difficult to execute and if done well, scores serious points with a quilt judge.

This is part of what I mean by thinking outside the quilt box.  If there’s a technique I don’t like to use, I see what I can do to change it or eliminate it.  No one is going to know the difference but me and I certainly won’t lose any sleep over it.

Picking my fabrics is the next thing I do, and while this is my very favorite part of making a quilt, it’s also one of my pet peeves.  When I work with my quilt students or am with a fellow quilter doing some strategic fabric retrievals (i.e. fabric shopping), nothing irritates me more than hearing the phrase, “I want my quilt to have the exact same fabric that’s on the pattern.” 

Seriously?  You want your quilt to be the exact replica of another person’s quilt?  Really? 

I get it on some level.  There are some absolutely gorgeous quilts out there on Pinterest and other websites.  And sometimes making an exact replica of that quilt works for your home or for the person you will give the quilt to.  But a steady diet of copying quilts exactly color for color, fabric for fabric, and stitch for stitch can stifle your creativity.  I would really, really like to take this chance to encourage you to use the camera on your phone and take a picture of the quilt.  Use whatever settings are on your phone to transfer the photo into a black and white image. Take this quilt for instance:

It’s made from wonderful fabrics with wonderful colors.  But what if, as much as you may like this quilt, those colors either aren’t your favorites (or the person you plan on gifting the quilt to may not like them) or they simply don’t go with the colors in your home?  Before you make a trip to the hardware store to buy paint to make the walls match your quilt, there is a simpler solution. 

Let’s flip the quilt image to black and white.

When this is done, you can see the quilt image in hues of white, gray, and darks – almost blacks.  This is all you need to take the quilt design and make it work for you.  For the white areas, choose true lights.  For the gray areas, pick medium fabrics, and for the dark areas, pick true darks.  I say this with emphasis, because the minute you choose a medium and try to make it work as a dark, it muddies your quilt.  I promise blog on this very soon. 

If I were making this quilt, this is how I would change up the colors: dark purple, white, medium purple, lavender, medium green. I think I would leave the pinks as they are.

These are some of my favorite colors and they go well with my home’s interior.

We will discuss a couple of more ways to think out of the box next week, before I discuss the “Muddying of the Fabric  Franchise.”  That truly is a topic that needs to be dissected, because it’s rampant. 

Until next week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

One reply on “Get Out of that Box!”

That was educational, nice. I agree that it is good to think outside the box. I find myself unable to follow patterns because I want to do my own thing, and I love Y-seams. (but I dislike applique so we all have something). I also really like your tip of taking a picture and turning it into black and white. Gonna try that sometime.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: