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Creative solutions: What happens when you work with what's on hand?

When it's time for dinner, sometimes you use the ingredients you picked up for the special recipe you've been planning to make, sometimes you get creative with what's in the fridge and the pantry, and other times you get creative with your favorite takeout.

Clearly, finding creativity in working with what you have is not unique to quilting.

Recently, I've been enjoying working with "found" materials for my quilt tops. There are so many designs, so many quilts that could be made, if only I could dream them up! Sometimes, asking questions like, "What can I make with what I have?" or "What can I add to make these things work together?" helps me focus and keeps my creative muscles in shape.

If you've read some of my previous blog posts, you'll remember that my current "fabric pantry" is dominated by a gifted trove of plaids and stripes. For example, the top I made with all those half-square triangles is just about finished:

The project I'm working on now still features plaids, stripes, and shirtings, but also makes use of a couple of regular print fabrics. (Perhaps from the fabric fridge?) I chose two palettes -- one from my solids, one from the plaids and stripes -- with the help of an inspiration fabric I've been wanting to use. It's a print with wild animals in greenery that I have in two colorways. Giveaway table for the win!

I sketched out a couple of thoughts, but then wanted to use a piece of fabric I had stenciled in a radiating design, which led to a design entirely different than my sketches. Since then, the project has continued to evolve. I'm no longer using the stenciled piece, but I'm still using the radiating design. Go figure.

My son has been offering commentary as he sees the progress on the design floor -- things like, "That's cool, but it's kind of 'old lady' fabrics. What if you put in a bright orange over there?" While I didn't exactly "put the bright orange over there," his points have been valid. I added some brighter prints (including a piece of the inspiration fabric) to the plaids and stripes, and I like it better. The little bits of liveliness are the spice that bring out the flavor of the other fabrics.

This one isn't done yet -- I'm still figuring out how I want to finish the outside edges. Round? Square? We'll see. Here's how it looks for now:

As I was thinking about this topic, I kept seeing parallels to challenges I encountered with bathroom decor, of all things.

When we moved in to our house, one of the bathrooms was tiled in mint green with blood red accents.

Not our favorite style choice, but in fine condition. We decided to take out the coffin-sized shower, turn that space into a cabinet, and turn the plumbing around so the tub could also be used for showers. We hoped to use the tile we removed from the shower to tile up higher around the tub, thus avoiding having to re-tile the rest of the bathroom.

I scoured the wallpaper store's sample books (yes, we had a local wallpaper store with sample books -- this was twenty years ago) and eventually found a cute print I thought would tame the mint green/blood red/white fixtures combo.

As it happened, we couldn't reuse the tile we removed from the shower, so we did have to take out all the tile and start over. By that time, I had already bought the wallpaper, so I chose the new tile based on the wallpaper. As fate would have it, once we finished tiling, we decided we liked it without the wallpaper!

So the bathroom you see now is decorated based on wallpaper we didn't use but bought to go with tile we no longer have. Go figure! Sounds like the creative process for a quilt to me!

Our other bathroom was (and still is) tiled in a strange gray and light yellow combo. When we bought the house, we had just received some sage green towels as wedding gifts, so I wanted to be able to use them. We also had a royal blue shower curtain. In the spirit of working (mostly) with what I had, I again turned to the wallpaper books, and, somewhat surprisingly, found a sea-themed print that pulled all the elements together.

This one is like some quilt "challenges" I've heard about. Something like: use these two colors in a quilt this size on this theme. How great is it when you find that one fabric or design element that makes the whole thing hang together?!

Or like when you look in the fridge and pantry at dinner time and you are faced with a package of sausages, an onion, 7 small potatoes, and half a bag of broccoli florets. How great is it when the internet comes in clutch with a recipe for a sheet pan roasted dinner with a sauce that makes the ingredients all taste like you meant to use them together?!

The grey bathroom has been quite serviceable for 20 years or so, but it's past due for a renovation (the picture doesn't highlight the leaky, creaky sink, the lack of storage space, or the peeing wallpaper). This time, though, I think I might just start from scratch with all new ingredients.

Bon appetit!

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